Legionnaires’ disease is a bacterial disease caused by Legionella bacteria. It is a kind of severe pneumonia that can be fatal if not diagnosed early. The disease was discovered in 1976, and those who were affected seemed to have developed a form of pneumonia which was eventually called Legionnaires’ disease, after the members of the American Legion it affected.
The infection comes about when people inhale small water droplets in the air that have become contaminated with the Legionella bacteria.
People will not get the disease from another person who has the infection or by drinking contaminated water, and if it does happen, it is only very rarely. It is thought that about 6000 people in America are hospitalized with the infection, but the reason for this high number is because many people do not report or are not diagnosed early enough.
It is important that when one suspects they have contracted the disease they report it quickly so that he or she can get early treatment. Another form of a disease that goes hand in hand with Legionnaires’ disease but less mild is a condition called Pontiac fever. This is also caused by the same bacteria but is less serious and infected patients usually make a full recovery.
Signs and symptoms of Legionnaires’ disease
If you are unlucky enough to contract Legionnaires’ disease the signs and symptoms will usually become visible within two weeks after one has been exposed to the bacteria. The signs and symptoms are closer to those of Pneumonia, and for this reason, it might be hard to diagnose at first. Typical symptoms of the disease include:
- High fever
- Muscle aches
- Loss of appetite
At first, some victims experience muscle aches, mild headaches and then later, after around 2 to 3 days the other signs and symptoms begin. When the bacteria enter the lungs, patients can develop persistent a cough, pains in the chest as well as problems breathing properly. At first, the cough may be dry, but as the infection persists some mucus and blood may begin to appear.
What are the complications of Legionnaires’ disease?
Most likely, patients who have contracted the disease may suffer respiration difficulties due to reduced levels of oxygen from the lungs making it difficult for the body to function properly.
Kidney failure may also occur as a result of the accumulation of waste and fluids in the blood. If the infection reaches the blood, one may experience septic shock leading to low blood pressure. As a result, the vital organs will receive less blood, such as the brain and kidney.
Risk factors for the Legionnaires’ disease
You are at a greater risk of getting the disease if you are:
- Over 50 years of age
• If you have a weakened immune system
• If you have chronic lung disease
• If you are a frequent smoker or heavy drinker
• If you have an underlying health condition such as cancer
People falling into the categories listed above are considered more at risk of contracting Legionnaires’ disease and should be extra vigilant.
Diagnosing the disease
The disease is usually diagnosed by testing urine samples from the patient to see if there are Legionella bacteria present. If any bacteria are found it means that their system is infected and will need treatment to combat the disease, usually with various antibiotics. Medics may also carry out chest x-rays to check the severity of the lung infection.
It is always advisable to seek immediate treatment if you suspect you have contracted the disease as this will help to reduce your risk of developing complications later on that may become more serious.
Things you can do to reduce the risks from Legionella
It is important to remember that prevention is better than cure. Ensuring you, your colleagues and the people around you are safe is very important. There are a number of things you can do to reduce the chances of exposure to Legionella bacteria or a Legionnaires’ disease infection.
Getting help from an experienced legionella assessment services provider will give you a great insight in to what needs to be done to keep people safe and also comply with the law.
Making sure that the water used in the buildings you are responsible for is properly treated is a good start. This can include the disinfection and proper cleaning of the hot and cold water systems, showers, water tanks, spas, pools and any other water systems that may hold the bacteria can help prevent the occurrence of the disease.