Legionnaires’ disease: chances are you’ve heard of it from random headlines over the past few years, but never felt particularly concerned about it — but just what is it, and is it actually a threat to you?
As we recently reported, there have been outbreaks in New York, California, and Illinois, sickening dozens and even resulting in fatalities, and they all tend to fit a similar pattern — people in town for a convention or on a cruise ship or something similar all get sick from the disease, which makes headlines and then the disease isn’t heard about until the next outbreak. But what exactly is this mysterious ailment, and should you be concerned?
Legionnaires’ was first discovered back in 1976 after more than 2,000 attendees of the Legionnaires’ convention experienced an outbreak, with 221 attendees getting sick and 34 people dying. Ever since then, incidents of the disease have been growing, with 1,110 cases of the disease being reported back in 2000 compared to 3,522 as recently as 2009 — a worrying figure ofr authorities.
Legionnaires’ disease comes from the Legionella bacteria, which is not spread from person to person but rather through the air, thriving in warm waters like plumbing systems and cooling units and hot tubs, which explains why it tends to sicken large groups of people who gather within public facilities.
Legionnaires’ causes pneumonia, which can be particularly threatening to people who don’t have strong immune systems, like the elderly, children, and people without strong immune systems.
However, anyone of any age can get Legionnaires’ disease. The Legionella bacteria can enter the lung either by aspiration of contaminated water or inhaling contaminated water or soil that has been aerosolized. It then multiples inside the body, where it infects white blood cells.
There are some treatments that have been known to work on the disease by blocking the multiplication of the bacteria. Antibiotics have also been used frequently on patients.
Treatment has gotten better than in 1976, when the fatality rate was high because the antibioitics used weren’t the right type. Mortality is now just 5 percent if therapy begins quickly.
Unrelated cases are a typical pattern of the disease, as it tends to appear more frequently in people who are already weakened.
San Quentin State Prison, San Francisco was also struck by the Legionnaires’ disease, with a total of 6 patients and other 95 inmates that were put under medical observation.
Authorities are advising the elderly and sick, as well as those with a compromised immune system not to visit their home. However, access by relatives is not prohibited.