Legionnaires' outbreak: First victim was 'happy-go-lucky' father of two

The first victim of a deadly outbreak of Legionnaires' disease to hit Edinburgh was a "happy-go-lucky" father of two.

Robert Air, 56, died in Edinburgh Royal Infirmary on Tuesday after falling ill after working in the south-west area of the city.

The news comes as Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon confirmed in an afternoon press conference today that there were 24 further confirmed cases, and 37 more suspected cases in the outbreak, an increase of ten suspected cases during the day.

She confirmed 12 of the victims were in intensive care.

Mr Air's brother Ronald said he was "devastated" by his death.

He told the Edinburgh Evening News: “It was all over in 24 hours, it was too quick. I keep thinking if he had gone to hospital sooner could something have been done?”

He described Robert, better known as Bert, as "a happy-go-lucky person" who always got on with the people he worked with.

He said: "That was the sort of person he was. A nicer man you couldn’t meet."

Robert's ex-wife Christine was told the news by her daughter who "was in shock".

Robert Air worked for the building firm J Smart and Company.

It issued a statement: "Mr Air was a good and conscientious employee who will be missed and our thoughts are with his family."

One colleague who wished not to be named told the Evening News: “It really has come as a shock to everyone. Around half a dozen of us have now been tested for the illness.

"A few of the lads were feeling a little fluey and went to get checked. It turned out that one of them had contracted the illness but they gave him antibiotics and he came back to work.”

J Smart and Company has given advice to the 70 staff and sub contractors at the housing development on Gorgie Road where Mr Air was working. They have been offered face masks if they want to use them but official advice from NHS Lothian is that these are not necessary and the risk to the general population is "very low".

Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon gave a statement on the outbreak to MSPs at Holyrood after describing it as "the most significant Legionnaires' outbreak we have had in Scotland for a long, long time, perhaps since the early 1980s".

She explained that the disease is a "common but serious form of pneumonia" which is more likely to affect older men than women especially those with pre-existing medical conditions.

In Parliament, she also explained why she took the "unusual step" of activating the Scottish Government's resilience committee.

She said: "It is not normal practice for a public health outbreak to be within a single health area. The reason I took the decision to activate the resilience committee, which is an unusual step, was due to the significant spike in cases over the course of Tuesday."

Ms Sturgeon added that there was concern that these cases may cross to other health areas.

The majority of cases are linked geographically to the Dalry, Gorgie and Saughton areas in the south west of the Scottish capital.

People displaying symptoms of the disease are being asked if they have been at any large public gatherings such as the Heart's Scottish Cup victory parade last month and Jubilee street parties this weekend. These are routine questions for investigating an outbreak and evidence at this time suggests no link with the either of these events.

Ms Sturgeon said: "No link has been identified between these patients other than a general association with the affected area in the south west of Edinburgh.

"What that does is underline the view that the source of this infection is an outdoor community source and not an indoor specific source, which would be the case if it was a spa in a hotel. That points to cooling towers in the south west of Edinburgh.

"It's a significant outbreak and it's the cause of understandable concern, but it's also resulting in all of the relevant agencies working together very closely, both to manage the outbreak and ensure that patients have the right treatment, and to identify the source as quickly as possible.

"There are, in any given year in Scotland, some 35 to 40 cases of Legionnaires' disease identified. About half of them are thought to be contracted overseas by people who have been travelling."

NHS Lothian has confirmed that 16 cooling towers in the south west of the city have been identified as possible sources and have been subject to chemical shock treatment to kill the potentially deadly bacteria.

The sites investigated include pharmaceutical company MacFarlan Smith in Gorgie, Burton's Biscuits in Sighthill and the North British Distillery.

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