Commercial Vehicle Operators and Legionnaires’ Disease

Posted on by Karl Sieber, PhD; Amy Mobley, Men; Alison Albert, MPH; Shelby Miller, MPH; and Albert Barskey, MPH

A New Concern Among Commercial Vehicle Operators

Legionnaires’ disease is a serious form of pneumonia that almost always requires treatment in the hospital. Studies from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and elsewhere have found Legionnaires’ disease occurs at twice the rate in transportation workers as in non-transportation workers. Among the transportation workers reporting Legionnaires’ disease, most (77%) were driver/sales workers or truck drivers.[1]

The Problem

If you are a commercial vehicle operator, you may have a higher chance of getting Legionnaires’ disease, a serious form of pneumonia.

 To keep yourself safe:

  • Only use full-strength windshield wiper fluid in your truck’s windshield wiper fluid tank.
  • Do not use water in place of wiper fluid. Adding water to your truck’s windshield wiper fluid tank can increase the growth of the bacteria that cause this illness.

In nature, the bacteria that causes Legionnaires’ disease live in fresh water and rarely cause illness. In human-made environments such as building plumbing systems, cooling towers, or hot tubs, the bacteria can grow in water that is not properly maintained. People can get sick if they breathe in air that has small water droplets (mist) that contain the bacteria.

As discussed in a recent article published in the Emerging Infectious Disease Journal, commercial vehicle operators may be exposed to the bacteria if they add water to their windshield wiper fluid. The bacteria that cause this illness grow better in water than in full-strength wiper fluid. When using a mix of wiper fluid and water, the bacteria can grow in the wiper fluid tank; if this happens, people may breathe in the bacteria when they mist their windshield to clean it.

Young, healthy people can develop Legionnaires’ disease, but it is uncommon. The risk of Legionnaires’ disease is highest among:

  • People who smoke or used to smoke.
  • People with a weak immune system or underlying medical conditions, such as cancer, diabetes, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
  • People who are 50 years old or older.

The Solution

Commercial vehicle operators can lower their chances of getting Legionnaires’ disease by using only full-strength windshield cleaner fluid in their windshield wiper fluid tank instead of water. This will decrease the risk of growth and spread of the bacteria. Closing the cab windows while cleaning them may also prevent driver exposure to the bacteria.

Learn more about Legionnaire’s Disease and how to prevent it.

For more information from NIOSH on truck driver safety and health see the website.

 

Karl Sieber, PhD, is a research health scientist in CDC/NIOSH’s Division of Field Studies and Engineering (DFSE).

Amy Mobley, MEn, is a health communications specialist in in CDC/NIOSH’s Division of Field Studies and Engineering (DFSE).

Alison Albert, MPH, is a health communications specialist in CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD).

Shelby Miller, MPH, is a health communications specialist in CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD).

Albert Barskey, MPH, is an epidemiologist in CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD).

 

[1] Morano LH, Herzig C, Morawski B, Edens C, Barsky A, Luckhaupt S.  Legionnaires’ Disease in Transportation Occupations 39 U.S. Jurisdictions, 2014-2016. 2019 CSTE Conference, Raleigh, North Carolina. June 4, 2019.:

Posted on by Karl Sieber, PhD; Amy Mobley, Men; Alison Albert, MPH; Shelby Miller, MPH; and Albert Barskey, MPH

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Page last reviewed: May 10, 2022
Page last updated: May 10, 2022