AN OUTBREAK of Legionnaires’ disease has occurred at a Sydenham hospice.

The Health Protection Agency (HPA) has been notified of three cases of the potentially deadly illness associated with St Christopher’s Hospice in Lawrie Park, Sydenham, affecting two inpatients at the end of last year and one employee who remains in hospital.

The HPA has been working with St Christopher’s to investigate how the infection has happened and to provide advice.

Director of the HPA’s South East London Health Protection Unit, Dr Rachel Heathcock, said:“It is important to note that Legionnaires’ disease cannot be spread from person-to-person.”

“Legionnaires’ disease is an uncommon form of pneumonia caused by legionella bacteria.

“These bacteria are commonly found in the environment and can live in all types of water including both natural and artificial sources. People become infected when they inhale legionella bacteria from a contaminated source."

The symptoms of Legionnaires’ disease include a flu-like illness with muscle aches, tiredness, headaches, dry cough and fever, which can lead to pneumonia if not treated.

St Christopher’s Hospice’s chief executive Barbara Monroe said:  “Everyone at St Christopher’s is very concerned about our colleague and our thoughts are with the individual and their family at this difficult time.

"We have followed and we continue to follow the advice of the HPA and we are implementing all of the further measures they have recommended.

“We closed our inpatient unit to new admissions on 15 January 2013 in order to bring forward our programme of refurbishment, which has been planned for some time.

“The refurbishment work will include full pipe work replacement as well as other improvements to the wards. During these refurbishments our day and outpatient services will remain open.”

Legionnaires' disease is an uncommon but serious illness and deaths may occur in between 10 and 15 per cent of otherwise healthy individuals.

The risk of death from the illness is increased for those who have weakened immune systems.