Legionella bacteria is the solely cause of Legionnaire’s disease. These bacteria live in rivers and lakes in low numbers, but they can also be found in artificial water supply in some cases. Legionella may be found in cooling towers, hot and cold water services and also in air conditioning systems.
All the bacteria need are appropriate conditions, meaning the right temperature and water and it can be spread very rapidly and contaminate any of water systems. That’s why there are strict regulations and water must be either cooler than 20ºC (68ºF) or warmer than 60ºC (140ºF) in order to prevent potential outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease.
Is Legionnaire’s Disease Common?
Legionnaire’s disease, legionellosis or the Legion fever as this condition is also known is discovered in some 10.000 to 50.000 Americans every year. However, many doctors believe that Legionella diseases are some of the under-diagnosed conditions in the world, especially in the developing countries and also because people don’t report milder symptoms caused by this bacteria.
Several outbreaks of this disease were recorded in the United States (USA) in 1976, Netherlands 1999, UK 2000 and 2002, in Norway 2005 and Los Angeles (USA) in 2011.
Legionella bacteria may cause either milder respiratory problems similar to influenza (known as Pontiac fever) or Legion fever, more serious infection and pneumonia. Legionnaire’s disease is more commonly found in men than in women, especially among older people, over 50 years of age.
Although Legionella is caught by breathing small drops of contaminated water, infected person can’t spread infection to anyone else. First symptoms of this infection usually consist of high fever and some pain in the muscles. The bacteria start multiplying and affect the lungs, causing persistent cough and potentially fatal lung infection (pneumonia).
Besides older men, legionellosis may pose a serious threat to patients suffering from some pre-existing medical conditions. Weakened immune system may make people more prone to this disease and also more likely to experience severe problems due to Legionnaire’s disease. According to the statistics, about 10 to 15% of healthy people who contracted Legionnaire’s disease will die, while the outlook for people suffering from some condition may be much worse than that.
How to Prevent Legionnaire’s Disease?
There are two simple rules to prevent outbreaks of this potentially lethal disease. First of all, all water systems must be cooler than 20ºC (68ºF) or warmer than 60ºC (140ºF) and second, make sure to maintain proper water hygiene (clean it from any impurities and don’t allow to stagnate).
For people traveling to countries with increased risk of this disease consult your doctor if you happen to develop any symptoms. Immediate treatment with antibiotics is crucial to decrease the risk of fatal consequences.
People with weakened immune system due to their health condition should avoid any potential sources of Legionella contamination, like spa centers.