THOUSANDS of Hearts fans were exposed to Legionella bacteria as they celebrated their team’s Scottish Cup victory, health officials have confirmed.
Jubilant supporters were gathered just 300 metres away from the Edinburgh distillery at the centre of the outbreak as the victory parade passed.
Officials at NHS Lothian have interviewed every patient infected with the disease and discovered many attended the May 20 celebrations in the Gorgie area of the city.
But they insist that of the 82 cases confirmed so far, only a “small number” can be linked to the parade.
Last week the North British Distillery had to shut down three of its cooling towers.
The Health and Safety Executive served an Improvement Notice on the distillery for alleged failures to adequately control the risk of legionella.
However, they stressed that this did not mean that it was the cause of the outbreak.
Dr Duncan McCormick, public health consultant at NHS Lothian, said: “The cup final celebrations at Tynecastle took place during the period we are considering in our investigation.
“We have asked all patients a wide range of questions to establish common factors to help us identify the source of the outbreak. The majority of cases have a connection to the Dalry, Gorgie and Saughton areas of Edinburgh but only a small number attended the event at Tynecastle.”
But microbiology expert Professor Hugh Pennington said there could be more people infected with the disease than previously thought.
The disease is caused by breathing in small droplets of water contaminated by legionella bacteria, and Professor Pennington said the number of victims would depend on the source.
“There is probably quite a substantial number of cases, much larger than the actual number of [diagnosed] cases” he said.
“That could well be a very large number. It depends on exactly what has happened.
“Was it one big puff coming out of a cooling tower, or was it a cooling tower that had been leaking over several days?”
The Scottish Government has now said it will only record suspected Legionnaires’ cases where pneumonia is a symptom.
Health bosses have now tested “hundreds” of people for the disease, while others are being given precautionary drugs without being tested.
Dr Duncan McCormick said: “The number of patients with confirmed or suspected legionnaires’ disease has continued to increase in line with our expectations. Our hospitals, GPs and out-of-hours services are doing an excellent job in responding to this outbreak and the increased pressure it has put on our services.
“Infection with legionella mainly causes mild symptoms. If symptoms are more severe and include pneumonia then the patient will be diagnosed with legionnaires’ disease.
“Now that we are seeing more cases in the community with less severe symptoms, we have refined our recording of suspected cases to be only those suffering from pneumonia.”