Legionnaires’ Disease – Essential Facts

Posted on Jul 16, 2013

Legionnaires’ disease is a rare serious infection of the lungs caused by breathing in water contaminated with the Legionella bacteria and can be fatal if not treated in time. Pontiac fever is another milder flu like illness caused by the same Legionella bacteria.

Legionella bacteria breeds and multiplies rapidly in warm stagnating water with temperatures ranging from 25° and 45°C, 35°C being optimum for its breeding. It is not possible to catch Legionnaires disease from an infected person or from drinking contaminated water; it can only be contracted by breathing in water contaminated with legionella bacteria.

Sources of Legionnaires’ disease can be any place with stagnating warm water like

While it is possible for anyone to be infected with legionnaires diseases, the chances of developing it increase substantially if you are already suffering from poor health.

People more at risk of contracting Legionnaires’ disease include:

  • People suffering from asthma and other lung diseases like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and lung cancer.
  • People with kidney or heart problems
  • People with alcohol addiction
  • Smokers
  • Cancer patients, especially lung cancer or leukemia.
  • People suffering from conditions reducing body’s ability to fight infections like
    • Diabetes
    • HIV or AIDS
    • Immunosuppressant medication.

People suffering from Legionella disease will start showing symptoms 2-10 days after being infected; average period of incubation is 2-10 days. Cough, high temperature, sweating and shivering and general feeling of uneasiness are the first symptoms along with headaches and body aches. Yellow or green sputum with blood stains is another sign. The infection spreads fast through the lungs causing breathlessness and chest tightness leading to pneumonia. Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and loss of appetite are some of the other symptoms and if not treated in time can cause complications of heart, brain or kidney or blood.

Antibiotics, either one or in combination, need to be given usually intravenously for treating Legionella disease generally for 10-14 days. Oxygen and IV fluids are often given to prevent stress on lungs and to keep the body well hydrated. In cases of severe pneumonia assisted ventilation might be required.

UK & many other countries have framed regulations on water supplies and air conditioning systems in big buildings to minimize risk of infection from Legionella bacteria or any other water or air borne bacteria. Complete eradication is however not possible but personal hygiene will go a long way in preventing infections.
It is essential that a water hygiene risk assessment be conducted by a specialist & necessary water treatments be designed to ensure that the risk of breeding of the bacteria is fully annihilated.