In recent weeks, a little-known illness known as Legionnaires' disease has been making headlines.
Despite its rather quaint-sounding name, Legionnaires' disease is nothing to sneeze at, and sadly has almost nothing to do with Alexander the Great. Understanding some basic facts surrounding Legionnaires' disease is an important step in knowing what you can do to help safeguard your facility against this resurgent health threat.
What is it?
Legionnaires' disease was described by The Mayo Clinic as a severe form of pneumonia, an infection leading to the swelling of the lungs. Caused by the legionella bacteria, the disease can lead to symptoms including fever, muscle pain, shortness of breath and severe coughing if left untreated. In general, symptoms tend to manifest roughly 10 days after exposure to the bacterium.
Who is at risk?
Legionnaires' disease can potentially affect anyone who has been exposed directly to the legionella bacteria. That said, there are those who are at higher risk of contracting the illness than others. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, older adults over the age of 50 may be at a higher risk, as may those who are smokers or past smokers. Additionally, individuals with existing respiratory illnesses such as emphysema, and those with weakened or suppressed immune systems, may face a greater susceptibility to the disease.
How is it treated?
As a bacterial infection related to pneumonia, Legionnaires' disease can typically be treated through a regimen of antibiotics. Although many who contract the illness see hospitalization, the CDC noted that complications are rare and, in many cases, patients are able to return to normal health shortly after their treatment.
How is it spread?
Unlike other contagious infections, Legionnaires' disease isn't typically spread through person-to-person contact, instead relying on people coming into direct contact with the bacteria. Both the CDC and The Mayo Clinic confirmed that the legionella bacteria thrive in warmer water, making hot tubs, swimming pools, plumbing systems and hot water heaters a specific area of concern for facility managers looking to prevent an outbreak.
All the disease requires for infection to take hold is for an individual to inhale near-microscopic droplets of water containing the bacteria - anything from inhaling contaminated pool water to being exposed to spray from a water heater or chiller undergoing maintenance can result in a person contracting the disease. Naturally, this poses a significant concern for maintenance personnel who find themselves interacting with a facility's plumbing, HVAC and hot water heaters on a regular basis.