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What You Should Know About Legionnaires’ Disease


Sharon Nachman, MD, Professor of Pediatrics, Division Chief, Pediatric Infectious Disease, Stony Brook Children’s Hospital

What You Should Know About Legionnaires’ Disease

STONY BROOK, NY October 2, 2015– Yesterday, hours after health officials released that a new Legionnaires’ disease cluster discovered in the Bronx has killed one person and sickened 12 others – just a month after the largest outbreak of the disease in New York City history, a school district on Long Island released that legionella bacteria was found in the cooling towers at Smithtown East and West High Schools. And today, there is a new school to add to the list – Connetquot High School in Bohemia, NY.

Sharon Nachman, MD, Professor of Pediatrics, Division Chief, Pediatric Infectious Disease, Stony Brook Children’s Hospital, shares information that concerned parents and community members should know about this disease.

What is Legionnaires’ disease? Legionnaires’ disease is caused by a bacterium known as legionella. Legionnaires’ disease is a severe form of bacterial pneumonia,” says Dr. Nachman.

Is there treatment? “Legionnaires’ disease is treated with antibiotics,” says Dr. Nachman. “The sooner therapy is started, the better and less likely that there will be the chance of serious complications, or death.” Dr. Nachman explains that in some cases, treatment of Legionnaires disease may need hospitalization.

Who is at greatest risk of Legionnaires’ disease? “It is important to know that not everyone exposed to legionella bacteria becomes sick,” says Dr. Nachman. “You’re more likely to develop legionella pneumonia if you have other medical conditions.” Dr. Nachman says that there are other groups that could be at high risk such as smokers, those with a weakened immune system and those with chronic lung disease.

How is it spread? “Most people become infected when they inhale microscopic water droplets containing legionella bacteria,” explains Dr. Nachman. “This could be from the spray of a shower, faucet or whirlpool, or water dispersed through the ventilation system in a large building, for example. Outbreaks of this disease have been linked to a range of sources, including hot tubs and whirlpools on cruise ships; cooling towers in air conditioning systems; decorative fountains; swimming pools; physical therapy equipment; and water systems in hotels, hospitals and nursing homes.”

Although legionella bacteria is primarily spread through aerosolized water droplets, the infection can be transmitted in other ways, including:

  • Aspiration. This occurs when liquids accidentally enter your lungs, usually because you cough or choke while drinking. If you aspirate water containing legionella bacteria, you may develop Legionnaires’ disease.
  • Soil. A few people have contracted Legionnaires’ disease after working in the garden or using contaminated potting soil.

If you have a worsening cough with fever or you have been told that you have pneumonia, which is not responding to the antibiotics, Dr. Nachman suggests to see your doctor. This infection is very testable and treatable.

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