Legionnaires' disease link to lack of windscreen wash

Failure to add windscreen wash to a vehicle's windscreen wiper water could account for around 20 percent of cases of Legionnaires' Disease, according to the Health Protection Agency.

The disease -- caused by the Legionella bacteria -- is commonly associated with water systems such as air conditioning units, showers and fountains. When inhaled the bacteria can cause .

However, this is the first time a link has been made between the disease and windscreen fluid.

Adding screen wash could mitigate the transmission of Legionella bacteria to drivers and passengers, the HPA said, in a report published in the European Journal of Epidemiology last week.

An HPA spokesperson said: "This preliminary HPA study suggests a strong association between a lack of screen wash in wiper fluid and the incidence of Legionnaires' disease.

"Further studies are now needed to determine whether the use of screen wash in wiper fluid could play a role in preventing this disease."

The HPA carried out the study after finding that cases of the potentially fatal disease were five times more prevalent among professional drivers in England and Wales than expected.

The agency contacted all survivors in England and Wales who had contracted Legionnaires' between July 2008 and March 2009.

Willing participants were questioned on their driving habits, possible Legionella sources in vehicles and known risk factors.

The study -- which looked at 75 cases and 67 controls -- also identified an increased risk of infection from driving through industrial areas, where there is likely to be a greater exposure to outside sources of Legionella.

This was the most likely explanation for the higher percentage of cases among professional drivers, analysts said.

Driving or travelling as a passenger in a van, driving with a window open and driving for long periods of time also increased the risk of infection -- all factors which may be linked to driving through industrial areas.

Also associated with an increased risk were driving an older vehicle and not using showers at home.

However, the report's authors said the findings on windscreen wash were "the most intriguing", concluding that 20 percent of Legionnaires' cases could be avoided by adding screen wash.

"This simple public health advice may be of worldwide relevance in reducing morbidity and mortality from Legionnaires? disease," the report stated.

Between 400 and 550 cases of Legionnaires' Disease have been reported in England and Wales in the last two years, with around one third of those infected as a result of travel to another country.

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(c) 2010 AFP

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User comments

Jun 15, 2010
Amen to that. Legionnaire's grows in warm water around 104 degrees F, which could be normal in an engine compartment swept by air.

Jun 16, 2010
The article lacks clarity. What, precisely, is the "windshield wash" noted in the article?

I would suppose that an empty windshield washer container would not harbor bacteria (or spread bacteria), so I suspect that the article is advising to use methanol cleaning fluid (the most common fluid) instead of plain water?

Results so poorly communicated are unlikely to be especially relevant.

Ditto! I was frustrated while reading this article for the lack of that critical piece of information. What's the difference between "windscreen fluid" and "screen wash"? Sounds like the same thing to me. This might be a Brittish thing. In the U.S., I've never heard of putting anything in the windshield wiper fluid compartment anything other than windshield wiper fluid, which, to my uneducated-auto-knowledge, is just soapy water?

Jun 16, 2010
To both posts above: i think what they meant is, among drivers, those who use a 'screen wash' (as in, some kind of detergent in the solution) are less likely to see the bacteria then those drivers that use water to clean their windshields. Maybe?

Jun 16, 2010
Having seen a better article, moj85 is right. It's a washer fluid (water, soap, alcohol) vs water thing. On the other hand, how many people skimp and use water? I probably spend two bucks (USD) a year on washer fluid.

Jun 19, 2010
The methanol at greater than 20% in winter fluid and detergents probably kill most germs including legionella. But odorless methanol vapors getting sucked into the car during A/C or heater use are also toxic and can cause blindness or gradual loss of vision. Best to use water containing about 1 oz of alcoholic mouth wash during summertime to stop the bugs from growing in the fluid reservoir. The ladies could also add a small amount of their favorite perfume.
Old time chemist

Jun 19, 2010
Re "odorless" methanol in windshield fluid, it is apparently barely noticeable or irritating to millions of drivers who have unknowingly breathed low levels for years, but possibly more so to a perfumer than an old chemist accustomed to far more obnoxious odors.

Jun 20, 2010
hmm how about not using ac and saving some gas. Also instead of using your windshield washer pump to clean your window, clean it by hand, its much more effective.

* I didn't account for professional drivers, who would routinely have to clean the window and would probably opt for the pump, but still, the whole thing could be avoided by not being lazy.

Jun 20, 2010
Ever lived in a state that doesn't use salt in the winter? Cleaning by hand isn't an option when you're driving. In a 2 hour trip to the nearest mountain, you WILL go through an entire full tank of wiper fluid. If you're only cleaning by hand you're stopping every 10 to 15 mins to clean. Thats assuming you get lucky enough to not get stuck behind a deicer truck (which rarely happens.)

As for opening the window. I'm in doubt that not using the AC makes a difference over a certain speed. Lower speed it may be viable. However, at higher speeds opening the window creates drag. It wasn't exactly hard science but, Mythbusters did a test on this and their results show that window open was less fuel efficient then AC on at higher speeds as well.

Jun 21, 2010
This article makes it sound like "those who have clean windows are less likely to suffer from legionnaires' disease." The lack of "versus water" statement is horrible.

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