Infectious diseases expert Professor David Murdoch is passionate about his work in better understanding legionnaires’ disease and its causes.
“If I ever have the opportunity in my career to help eradicate a disease it would likely be legionnaires’ disease. It’s the most common cause of pneumonia for much of the year in Christchurch and it has a far greater impact on community health and the hospital than people realise.’’
Professor Murdoch has just published research showing the potentially fatal disease is four times more prevalent in Canterbury than previously thought. He believes the results will apply to other centres and has sought funding to do New Zealand-wide research.
Professor Murdoch says special tests are required to diagnose legionnaires’ disease because it looks the same as other forms of pneumonia on an x-ray and has similar symptoms.
It is important to know if a patient has legionnaires’ disease as specific antibiotics are required to treat it which differ from the standard treatment for pneumonia.
Professor Murdoch says he and colleagues from the Canterbury Health Laboratories introduced a new strategy in 2010 whereby all samples from Canterbury patients with pneumonia were tested for legionnaires’ disease.
“It’s a very simple approach but we don’t think anyone else has done this globally.’’
“We have more than quadrupled the detection of legionnaires’ disease with this new strategy and highlighted a big spring/summer peak in activity that is more predictable every year in Christchurch than influenza. This peak is associated with gardening activities but the actual cause is not known.’’
Professor Murdoch is now studying Cantabrians who test positive for Legionnaires’ disease in greater depth to try and understand what specific gardening activities or other activities are implicated.
This guest post was written by Kim Thomas, Senior Communications Advisor, University of Otago, Christchurch, www.uoc.otago.ac.nz.
Television New Zealand news article relating to this issue: http://tvnz.co.nz/national-news/researchers-hope-uncover-cause-deadly-disease-5702569