Legionnaires’ (LEE-juh-nares) disease is a very serious type of pneumonia (lung infection) caused by bacteria called Legionella. If you develop pneumonia symptoms and may have been exposed to Legionella, see your doctor right away and contact our team of lawyers at McEldrew Purtell by filling out our form or calling 1-866-521-0865. Legionella grows best in large, complex water systems that are not adequately maintained, so it’s possible to become infected by breathing in mist or accidentally swallowing water from cooling towers, showers, hot tubs, and water fountains.
Eight thousand to 18,000 Americans are hospitalized due to Legionnaires’ disease each year, but only about 5,000 cases are reported to the CDC.
Legionnaires’ disease got its name from a 1976 outbreak at an American Legion convention in Philadelphia. After returning home from the convention, a number of Legionnaires began experiencing mysterious symptoms, like fevers that reached 107 degrees, as well as pneumonia. By the following month, 6 of the 14 infected men had died, according to the Times, yet laboratory tests couldn’t determine a cause for the illnesses. Six months after the initial cases were identified, doctors discovered that the illness was caused by a bacterium, which they named Legionella pneumophila. Legionella grows in warm water, and the outbreak at the convention was spread by the hotel’s air-conditioning system. In the United States, reported cases of Legionnaires’ disease have grown by nearly four and a half times since 2000.
Causes and Common Sources of Infection
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:
- Cooling towers (structures that contain water and a fan as part of centralized air cooling systems for building or industrial processes)
- Decorative fountains and water features
- Hot tubs (that aren’t drained after each use)
- Hot water tanks and heaters
- Large plumbing systems
- Shower heads
- Sink faucets
How Legionnaires Disease Spreads
After Legionella grows and multiplies in a building water system, the water containing Legionella then has to spread in droplets small enough for people to breathe in. People can get Legionnaires’ disease when they breathe in small droplets of water in the air that contain the bacteria. Less commonly, people can get sick by aspiration of drinking water containing Legionella. This happens when water accidentally goes into the lungs while drinking. In general, people do not spread Legionnaires’ disease to other people, however, this may be possible under rare circumstances.
Legionnaire’s Disease Can Cause Pneumonia Symptoms
Signs and symptoms of Legionnaire’s disease can include:
- Muscle aches
- Shortness of breath
Symptoms usually begin 2 to 10 days after being exposed to the bacteria, but it can take longer, so people should watch for symptoms for about 2 weeks after exposure.
If you develop pneumonia symptoms, see a doctor right away. Be sure to mention if you may have been exposed to Legionella, have used a hot tub, spent any nights away from home, or stayed in a hospital in the last two weeks.