It is not uncommon for patients with Legionnaires' disease to be admitted to the intensive care unit. Some will suffer long-term impaired health-related quality of life. A study of outbreak survivors showed persistence of fatigue (75%), neurologic symptoms (66%) and neuromuscular symptoms (63%) in months after an outbreak. See Share Your Story for a first-hand account of the severity of this disease.
Legionnaires' disease is a potentially fatal lung infection (pneumonia) that is caused by the legionella bacteria. Legionnaires' disease is caught by breathing in small droplets of contaminated water. It is not contagious and cannot be spread directly from person to person.
Initial symptoms include a high fever and muscle pain. Once the bacteria begin to infect your lungs, you may also develop a persistent cough (see Legionnaires' disease - symptoms). Prompt treatment using antibiotics is essential to reduce the risk of death. See Legionnaires' disease - treatment for more information.
The condition is called Legionnaires' disease because it was first identified after a large outbreak at a hotel hosting a convention of a veteran organisation known as the American Legion.
Causes of Legionnaires' disease
Legionella bacteria is commonly found (often in low numbers) in sources of water, such as rivers and lakes. The bacteria sometimes find their way into artificial water supply systems such as:
air conditioning systems
hot and cold water services
Given the right conditions, legionella bacteria can rapidly spread and contaminate these water systems.
Large buildings, such as hotels, hospitals, museums and office blocks, are more vulnerable to legionella contamination because they have larger, more complex water supply systems in which legionella contamination can quickly spread.
There are strict guidelines regarding the maintenance and control of water supply systems, such as either keeping the water cooled below 20ÂºC (68ÂºF) or heated above 60ÂºC (140ÂºF) to prevent an outbreak of Legionnaires' disease.
See Legionnaires' disease - causes for more information about where legionella bacteria can be found and how they can spread.
How common is Legionnaires' disease?
In 2010, there were 11 reported cases of Legionnaires' disease in Ireland, of which 7 were travel acquired.
However, the actual number of cases of Legionnaires' disease may be much higher than the reported number of cases. This is because not everyone with pneumonia may have the relevant test for Legionnaires' disease, particularly those with milder symptoms. Therefore, these cases may not be reported to the health authorities.
Legionnaires' disease is three times more common in men than women, and it mostly affects people who are over 50 years old.
Legionnaire's disease can be very serious, particularly in vulnerable people, such as the elderly or people with pre-existing health conditions.
An estimated 10-15% of otherwise healthy people who contract Legionnaires' disease will die. The number of deaths may be higher in people with pre-existing health conditions, such as a weakened immune system (the body's natural defence against illness and infection).
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Article Added on Monday, June 16, 2014
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