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Public health looks to educate the public about Legionnaires’ disease

FONDA — The following is from the Montgomery County Department of Public Health, 20 Park St., about Legionnaires’ disease according to a news release.

What is Legionnaires’ disease?

The Legionnaires’ disease is a type of pneumonia caused by bacteria called Legionella. Although this type of bacteria has been around for a long time, more illness from Legionnaires’ bacteria is being detected now because health professionals are looking for this disease whenever a patient has pneumonia. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in 2018, approximately 10,000 cases of Legionnaires’ disease were reported in the United States. However, because Legionnaires’ disease is likely underdiagnosed, this number may underestimate the true incidence.

What are common causes and sources of infection for Legionnaires’ disease? How do people get Legionnaires’ disease?

The Legionella is a type of bacterium found naturally in freshwater environments, like lakes and streams. It can become a health concern when it grows and spreads in human-made building water systems like the following:

∫ Showerheads and sink faucets.

∫ Cooling towers (structures that contain water and a fan as part of centralized air cooling systems for building or industrial processes).

∫ Hot tubs that aren’t drained after each use.

∫ Decorative fountains and water features.

∫ Hot water tanks and heaters.

∫ Large plumbing systems.

The home and car air-conditioning units do not use water to cool the air, so they are not a risk for Legionella growth. The bacteria grow best in warm water. People get Legionnaires’ disease when they breathe in a mist or vapor (small droplets of water in the air) that has been contaminated with the bacteria. Other sources have been linked to aerosol sources in the community, or with cruise ships and hotels, with the most likely sources being cooling towers (air-conditioning units from large buildings), and water used for drinking and bathing. The bacteria is not spread from one person to another person.

What are the

symptoms of

Legionnaires’

disease?

The Legionnaires’ disease can have symptoms like many other forms of pneumonia (lung infection), which include cough, shortness of breath, fever, muscle aches and headaches. Legionnaires’ disease can also be associated with other symptoms such as diarrhea, nausea, and confusion.

The symptoms usually begin two to 10 days after being exposed to the bacteria, but it can take longer so people should watch for symptoms for about two weeks after exposure. If someone develops pneumonia symptoms, they should see a doctor right away. Be sure to mention if they may have been exposed to Legionella, have used a hot tub, spent nights away from home, or stayed in a hospital in the last two weeks.

A milder infection caused by the same type of Legionella bacteria is called Pontiac Fever. The symptoms of Pontiac Fever usually last for two to five days and may also include fever, and muscle aches; however, there is no pneumonia.

The symptoms go away on their own without treatment and without causing further problems. Pontiac Fever and Legionnaires’ disease may also be called “Legionellosis” separately or together.

How serious is it? What is the treatment?

The Legionnaires’ disease can be very serious and can cause death. About one out of every 10 people who get sick with Legionnaire’s disease will die due to complications from their illness. Most cases can be treated successfully with antibiotics, and healthy people usually recover from infection.

Who gets this disease?

Most healthy people exposed to Legionella do not get sick. People most at risk of getting sick from the bacteria are older people (usually 50 years of age or older), as well as people who are current or former smokers, or those who have a chronic lung disease (like emphysema). The people who have weak immune systems from diseases like cancer, diabetes, or kidney failure are also more likely to get sick from Legionella bacteria. The people who take drugs to suppress (weaken) the immune system (like after a transplant operation or chemotherapy) are also at higher risk.

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