What is Legionnaires’ Disease?

Posted by on May 4, 2015 in Water

Legionnaires’ disease is a serious medical condition that shares the characteristics of other forms of pneumonia. It is caused by a bacterium called Legionella that is typically found in water. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), this bacterium usually thrives in warm water and typically is typically found in hot tubs, swimming pools, hot water tanks, large plumbing systems, cooling systems, and decorative fountains. It doesn’t spread through person-to-person contact, but through inhalation of mist or vapor that’s coming from a contaminated water source.

Legionella doesn’t always cause illness for some people. However, those who do get infected and diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease can end up suffering from severe and even life-threatening symptoms. The first signs of the condition are felt at around 2 to 14 days after bacterial exposure. During this type, a patient will develop a high fever with headaches, coughing, shortness of breath, and muscle aches. It can also cause gastrointestinal problems and a confused mental state. Without proper treatment, Legionnaires’ disease can affect a patient’s lungs, as well as cause infection to the heart and other vital organs. It can cause the body to go into respiratory failure, kidney failure, or septic shock. To prevent such outcomes, patients need to seek out a round of antibiotic treatment from their physicians. In some cases, Legionnaires’ disease might also require hospitalization.

Sometimes, patients infected by Legionella can develop a milder version of Legionnaires’ disease called Pontiac fever. The symptoms remain the same, but the threat of lung infection and other complications are usually absent. Pontiac fever will also clear up on its own after a few days. As pointed out by the CDC, it won’t require any specific treatment.

Legionnaires’ disease might be alarming, but it is also easily preventable. Keeping water systems clean and disinfected is one of the most significant steps to take against the spread of Legionella. A precaution suggested by the website of American Water, is through the use of water softening and filtering systems in residential homes. Individuals can also reduce their risk of infection by avoiding smoking, which the Mayo Clinic says significantly increases the chances of developing the disease.

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