07/06/2012 06:22 BST | Updated 07/06/2012 12:01 BST

Robert Air, 56, Named Locally As First Victim Of Legionnaires' Disease

The first fatality of the Legionnaires' disease outbreak in Edinburgh has been identified as a father-of-two from the Seafield area of the city.

Robert Air, 56, had reportedly been working as a labourer on a building site in Gorgie before becoming unwell. He was among 24 people who had contracted the disease with another 27 people suspected of having the illness, which has been linked to the south west area of the Scottish capital.

All those suffering from the disease have links to the Dalry, Gorgie and Saughton areas in the south west of Edinburgh.

According to The Sun, the building site where Mr Air worked was close to the North British Distillery where NHS Lothian are said to be testing for the source of the airborne bacteria.

His workmates are still working at the Smarts building site, reports The Daily Record, but have now been told to wear face masks.

“A lot of the guys are worried and have been to hospital”, plumber Liam Wilson told The Daily Record.

Heatlh secretary Nicola Sturgeon passed on her condolences to the family of Mr Air.

Talking to MSPs at Holyrood, she said the outbreak of the disease in the capital was the worst the country has seen since the 1980s.

"In Scotland, we would normally expect to see around 30 to 40 legionella cases each year.," she added.

"Typically around half of these cases are contracted abroad, but we also see indigenous cases, and it is not unusual to see single sporadic cases of community-acquired legionella.

"Across Europe, outbreaks are not uncommon, with dozens of outbreaks per annum and thousands of cases."

Labour MSP for the Lothians Sarah Boyack said people wanted clearer information about the outbreak earlier.

She told BBC Radio Scotland's Good Morning Scotland programme: "I understand the first incident was 28 May. It took until Sunday before we had the response from NHS Lothian."

"So the main response people have had is just nervousness and a wish for more clear, accurate information.

"Getting information out as soon as possible was key.

"Now we want to look to see where the incident actually arose so that all public health lessons can be learned for the future."

But Marco Biagi, whose Edinburgh Central constituency includes part of the affected area, defended the response of the authorities.

Speaking on the same programme, he admitted: "There are concerns, it's a very serious incident. But the advice is the same as it has been since Sunday: anybody showing flu-like symptoms should contact NHS24 or their GP in order to have things checked out."

The SNP MSP argued that the authorities reacted "incredibly swiftly" to the outbreak.

Mr Biagi said: "There were individual cases that happened before Sunday but there are always individual cases of Legionnaires' every year in Scotland.

"It was on Sunday that it was clear there was a cluster developing and by the end of Sunday the first potential sources in the towers had been identified and treated.

"Today a leaflet is going out to every single household in the affected area giving information about symptoms and who to contact. I think the response has been very, very strong and very, very rapid."

legionanries bactria

A micrograph picture of the Legionionella pneumophilia bactera. The bacteria replicates quickly, part of what makes the disease so infectious

Legionella bacteria is commonly found in sources of water, such as rivers and lakes. The bacteria can end up in artificial water supply systems, including air conditioning systems, water services and cooling towers.

Legionnaires' disease is contracted by breathing in small droplets of contaminated water. It was described as an "acute form of pneumonia" by Gad Frankel, Professor of Molecular Pathogenesis at Imperial College London.

Symptoms include mild headaches, muscle pain, fever, a persistent cough and sometimes vomiting and diarrhoea, and can begin any time between two and 14 days after exposure to the bacteria.

About half of those who contract the disease will also experience changes to their mental state, such as confusion.

However, the condition is not contagious and cannot be spread directly from person to person.

A NHS helpline dedicated to deal with those worried about the disease has been set up and can be reached on 0800 0858 531.