WHAT IS LEGIONELLA / LEGIONNAIRES’ DISEASE?
Legionnaires’ Disease is a progressive and potentially fatal atypical pneumonia caused by the inhalation of water aerosols containing Legionella bacteria, deep into the lung. The onset is relatively abrupt with high fever, a membrane covering the lungs (pleurisy) etc, and in some cases death.
Legionella bacteria form in hot and cold water systems such as plumbing, shower heads, water storage tanks and cooling towers.
On average, 300 cases of Legionnaires’ Disease are reported each year in the UK.
Infection with Legionella bacteria can be fatal in approx. 12% of reported cases. This rate can be higher in a more susceptible population, e.g. immuno-suppressed patients or those with other underlying diseases. Certain groups of people are known to be at a higher risk of contracting Legionnaires’ disease: e.g. men appear more susceptible than women, as do those over 45 years of age, smokers, alcoholics, diabetics and those with cancer or chronic respiratory or kidney disease.
It was first identified following a large outbreak of pneumonia in 1976 of people who attended an American Legion Convention in Philadelphia hence the name of the illness.
Legionnaires’ disease is normally contracted through inhaling the Legionella bacterium in tiny droplets of water (aerosols) such as showers, steam rooms and whirlpools etc. At this time there is no evidence of Legionnaires disease being caught through person to person contact. The incubation period is between 2-10 days and not everyone exposed will develop the full blown disease but may suffer mild flu like systems. Initial symptoms of the disease include high fever, chills, headaches and muscle pain. About one third of patients infected also develop diarrhoea or vomiting.