Legionella is a bacteria that is most often found in water such as lakes, streams and rivers. However, because it is a waterborne illness it often crops up in dangerous areas to humans. Areas that put us most at risk are showers/faucets, cooling towers, improperly cleaned hot tubs, fountains, hot water tanks, large plumbing systems, and even ice machines.
Legionnaires disease is caused by the Legionella bacteria being breathed into the lungs. This can happen when you’re taking a shower and breathing in small water particles or mist that has the bacteria present. It can even happen when drinking contaminated water and accidentally swallowing it “down the wrong tube”.
As with any bacterial infection there are groups who are at increased risk and should consider taking additional precautions.
- People 50 years or older
- Current or former smokers
- People with a chronic lung disease (like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or emphysema)
- People with weak immune systems or who take drugs that weaken the immune system (like after a transplant operation or chemotherapy)
- People with cancer
- People with underlying illnesses such as diabetes, kidney failure, or liver failure
If someone is infected by Legionnaires Disease it manifests itself as a case of pneumonia, an infection of the lungs. Patients can be diagnosed by a chest x-ray, and confirmed as Legionnaires Disease with a urine test or lab testing of lung phlegm. Legionnaires Disease can be treated with antibiotics, but 1 in 10 people diagnosed die as a result of the illness. If they contracted Legionnaires while staying in a hospital setting their risk of death jumps to 1 in 4.
Prevention of Legionnaires Disease is fairly simple. Water sources must be maintained, and protocol must be followed to keep the water clean and uncontaminated. For more info on Legionella check out the CDC's site for additional information. Check out our Food Safety Month Infographic for more info on Legionella and some other members of the Bad Bug Gang.
All info in this post was taken from the Center for Disease Control's website.