Legionnaire's disease
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Legionnaire's disease

Legionnaires' disease is an uncommon form of pneumonia caused by a type of bacteria called Legionella. The majority of cases are reported as single (isolated) cases but outbreaks can occur. All ages can be affected but the disease mainly affects people over 50 years of age, and generally men more than women. Smokers and the immunocompromised are at a higher risk.
The Legionella bacteria are found naturally in the environment, and are found widely distributed, usually in water. They can live in all types of water including both natural sources such as rivers and streams, and artificial water sources such as hot tubs, cooling towers, hot water tanks, large plumbing systems, or parts of the air-conditioning systems of large buildings. They do not seem to grow in car or window air-conditioners. The bacteria only become a risk to health when the temperature allows the legionellae to grow rapidly, such as in water systems which are not properly designed, installed and/or maintained.
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. One example might be from breathing in the steam from a whirlpool spa that has not been properly cleaned and disinfected.
The bacteria are NOT spread from one person to another person.
Outbreaks are when two or more people become ill in the same place at about the same time, such as patients in hospitals. Hospital buildings have complex water systems, and many people in hospitals already have illnesses that increase their risk for Legionella infection.
Other outbreaks have been linked to aerosol sources in the community, or with cruise ships and hotels, with the most likely sources being whirlpool spas, cooling towers (air-conditioning units from large buildings), and water used for drinking and bathing.
Incubation Period
Symptoms usually begin 2 to 14 days after being exposed to the bacteria, with a median of 6 to 7 days.
Signs and symptoms
Legionnaires' disease can have symptoms like many other forms of pneumonia, so it can be hard to diagnose at first. Signs of the disease can include: a high fever, chills, and a cough.
Some people may also suffer from muscle aches and headaches. Chest X-rays are needed to find the pneumonia caused by the bacteria, and other tests can be done on sputum (phlegm), as well as blood or urine to find evidence of the bacteria in the body.
Sometimes diarrhoea occurs and confusion may develop. Deaths occur in 10-15% of the general population and may be higher in some groups of patients.
A milder infection caused by the same type of Legionella bacteria is called Pontiac Fever . The symptoms of Pontiac Fever usually last for 2 to 5 days and may also include fever, headaches, and muscle aches; however, there is no pneumonia. Symptoms go away on their own without treatment and without causing further problems.
Legionnaires' disease can be very serious and can cause death in up to 5% to 30% of cases. Most cases can be treated successfully with antibiotics [drugs that kill bacteria in the body], and healthy people usually recover from infection.
Control and prevention of the disease is through treatment of the source of the infection, i.e. by treating the contaminated water systems, and good design and maintenance to prevent growth in the first place.