Legionnaires’ disease is a serious bacterial respiratory infection that can lead to pneumonia. Legionnaires disease causes may involve inhaling the vapors, mist or minute water droplets contaminated with Legionella, the specific bacteria responsible for most of the cases of Legionnaires’ disease. These bacteria thrive in warm, wet places like the pipes and tanks of plumbing and air conditioning or other air ventilation systems found in large buildings as well as on cruise ships. Legionella can also survive in pools of water such as fountains and hot tubs.
Legionnaires disease does not spread from person to person. It is possible to be infected and not display any symptoms. Medical lab tests are necessary to correctly diagnose the disease. Generally, someone with Legionnaires’ disease will have a cough, fever, chills, sometimes muscle ache or headache, and possibly nausea and diarrhea. Legionnaires’ disease can be a fatal illness, causing death in up to 5 percent to 30 percent of cases and even more if the disease spreads in a hospital.
How and Where Legionnaires’ Disease Spreads
When people are confined in closed areas, they become vulnerable to breathing in bacteria laden vapors that are sprayed invisibly into the air through ventilation ducts or through the spray and mist of showers, hot tubs and drinking fountains.
The types of places where Legionnaire’s disease outbreaks are most common are the following:
- Convention centers
- Apartment buildings
- Cruise ships
Without routine monitoring, cleaning and maintenance, the growth and spread of Legionella bacteria through air conditioning systems or through water delivery systems for drinking and bathing can occur in facilities like those listed above. When this happens, there is the possibility of an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease, affecting large numbers of innocent people. If the air is contaminated, breathing it can make you sick.
Since the first widespread outbreak in 1976 at an American Legion convention occurring in a Philadelphia hotel, much has been learned about Legionnaires’ disease. With that knowledge has come responsibility. Regulations and guidelines have been designed to control and reduce the presence of the dangerous disease causing bacteria in places like hospitals, cruise ships and hotels. With compliance and enforcement, these steps should help limit the incidence of Legionnaires’ disease outbreaks. If an outbreak does occur at an establishment or facility that has not taken the appropriate precautions for prevention, they may be held liable. Persons who suffer from Legionnaires disease symptoms may be entitled to compensation.