A look at Legionnaire’s Disease


(KTSF by Susannah Lee)

Legionellosis, or Legionnaire’s Disease, is caused by inhalation of large doses of Legionella bacteria which attack the lungs. This disease is not transmissible. While some patients express flu-like symptoms, others develop pneumonia.

Dr Tomas Aragon, Health Officer of the San Francisco Department of Public Health says “Community transmitted pneumonia is only the everyday pneumonia. Doctors see 20% from Legionella, therefore it is common. Reporting is under-reported because it is difficult to diagnose.”  According to Dr Aragon, doctors are likely to prescribe antibiotics that would cover  Legionella if initial sample testing shows that the case was not caused by pneumococcus, the most common bacteria leading to pneumonias.

Legionella is present in the natural environment, mostly found in fresh water. Dr Aragon says it does not, however, normally cause Legionnaires’ Disease and people should not worry too much about it.

“A lot of buildings actually have Legionella. In water systems, amounts of Legionella can get high because of temperature, biofilm, opportunities of aerosolization, so that it gets in the air and people breathe it in.”

But most people do not get sick.

“It would be people, in general, who are older, have chronic lung conditions or immune compromised are more susceptible to get ill.”

A 10 to 14-day treatment with antibiotics is usually enough for treating the disease, while it could take some more time for the patient to fully recover.

He says hospitals are places of more concern because there are patients who are compromised with diseases or medical procedures. Some hospitals carry out routine
checking or cleaning. Flushing out the water systems or use of chemical disinfectants are ways to prevent Legionella buildup.

A handful of Legionnaire’s Disease cases are reported to the San Francisco Department of Public Health every year, and the number remains stable.

On the other hand, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention receives around 8,000 to 18,000 cases of Legionnaire’s patients being hospitalized. Approximately one-fourth of them are travel-associated.

In 1976, a group of veterans gathered in a convention in Philadelphia, after which a pneumonia outbreak occurred among the participants. The unidentified bacteria causing the outbreak was then named Legionella, and thus Legionnaire’s Disease for the resulting pneumonia.

(Copyright 2011 KTSF. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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