Water of Public Saunas, Hospitals Found Unsanitary
By Bae Ji-sook
Jjimjilbang (Korean style sauna), hotels, department stores and hospitals are places frequented by Seoulites, but much of the water in these places is contaminated, a state-funded institute said Monday.
According to the Research Institute of Public Health and Environment, roughly 11 percent of 708 water tanks at these facilities in downtown Seoul were contaminated with bacteria that can cause pneumonia. The research was conducted between June and July, a time when the bacteria are most abundant.
The hygiene level of the bathing places' was found to be unsatisfactory. About 21 percent of hot water tanks contained the organisms, among which 28 showed a density of 10,000-100,000 per liter. The figure means the water tank needs immediate sterilization and disinfecting, the institute suggested.
Concerns about the unhygienic conditions at such ``public places'' has long been raised by hygiene experts. Last year, then lawmaker Jeon Jae-hee of the Grand National Party said 167 general hospitals nationwide were found to contain the bacteria. She revealed that one hospital in Daegu was found with more than 2,000 times the government standard.
``The government conducts such research around summer time every year, but the figure doesn't seem to drop at all,'' she said.
Seoul Metropolitan Government ordered such facilities to take steps to improve their sanitation since seven people were reported to have been infected with the bacteria.
Legionellosis is usually found in cooling tanks or water tanks in summer season and causes coughing, high fever, throat ache, chest ache and other symptoms after inhaling the water vapor. In severe cases, it could lead to pneumonia and take people's lives.
Commonly known as Legionaires' disease, legionella pneumophila was first identified in the killing of 34 members of the American Legion who attended a meeting at a hotel in Philadelphia in 1976. Then, cooling water from the water tank was picked as the cause.
In Korea, 23 patients at an intensive care unit in a general hospital in downtown Seoul all suffered from pneumonia in 1984. No one was killed, but legionellosis was later confirmed as the cause of the outbreak.