A Guide to Legionnaires’ Disease

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A Guide to Legionnaires’ Disease

Legionnaires’ disease is a form of pneumonia caused by exposure to legionella bacteria. While it is uncommon, it can be serious and can lead to long-term health problems and, in extreme cases, can even cause death. 

What is Legionnaires’ disease?

Legionnaires’ disease is a severe form of pneumonia, and is caused by a bacterium known as legionella. 

Most people tend to catch Legionnaires’ disease by inhaling the bacteria from water or soil. Legionnaires’ disease is a potentially fatal form of pneumonia and anyone can be susceptible to infection. The risk of infection generally increases with age but some groups are particularly at higher risk, these include: 

  • People over 45 years of age
  • Smokers and heavy drinkers
  • People suffering from chronic respiratory or kidney disease
  • Diabetes, lung and heart disease
  • Anyone with a vulnerable immune system

Where does legionella bacteria come from? 

Legionella bacteria are common in natural water systems such as rivers and ponds. However, the conditions are rarely right for people to catch the disease from these bodies of water. Outbreaks of the illness occur from exposure to legionella growing in purpose-built systems where water is maintained at a high enough temperature that allows the bacteria to grow. Legionella bacteria is commonly found in cooling towers, evaporative condensers, hot and cold water systems, and spa pools. 

How does Legionnaires’ disease spread?

As mentioned in the previous section, legionella bacteria is rife in purpose-built water systems where water is maintained at a high temperature, allowing the bacteria to grow at a rapid rate. Legionnaires’ disease generally spreads when people inhale microscopic water droplets containing legionella bacteria.
Besides breathing in water droplets, the infection can be transmitted in other ways, including the following: 

  • Aspiration - This occurs when liquid enters your lungs accidentally. This is generally due to coughing or choking while drinking. Contracting Legionnaires’ disease via aspiration is quite rare 
  • Soil - People have been known to contract Legionnaires’ disease after working in a garden or using contaminated soil while gardening and inhaling some of the soil.

The dangers of Legionnaires’ disease

If left untreated, Legionnaires’ disease can lead to life-threatening complications and can be fatal. It can lead to: 

  • Respiratory failure - Respiratory failure occurs when the lungs are no longer able to provide the body with enough oxygen, or cannot remove carbon dioxide from the blood. 
  • Septic shock - Septic shock occurs when blood pressure drops to a dangerously low level after an infection. 
  • Kidney failure - Kidneys can lose the ability to filter waste from your blood. When this occurs, dangerous levels of fluid and waste can accumulate in your body. 

What are the symptoms?

Initial symptoms of Legionnaires’ disease are similar to that of the flu, and may include a temperature, muscle ache, headaches and confusion. If you have symptoms, and are concerned you may have contracted Legionnaires’ disease, you must speak to your GP as soon as possible and raise your concerns. Additionally, if you have travelled abroad anywhere that has an outbreak, you should inform your GP of this too. 

Additional symptoms of Legionnaires’ disease include: 

  • A cough, which may bring up mucus and sometimes blood
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Fever that may be 40°C or higher
  • Gastrointestinal symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea

Although Legionnaires’ disease primarily affects the lungs, it occasionally causes infection wounds in other parts of the body, including the heart, which is why it is imperative to speak to your GP as soon as you can. 

There is also a mild form of Legionnaires’ disease, known as Pontiac fever, which produces similar symptoms (fever, chills, headache and muscle aches). Pontiac fever does not infect the lungs and symptoms of this mild form of Legionnaires’ disease usually clear within two to five days. 

If you think you have been exposed to legionella bacteria, contact your GP immediately. Diagnosing and treating Legionnaires’ disease as soon as possible can help shorten the recovery period and prevent serious complications. This is particularly vital for those who are at high risk (see the aforementioned groups).

Talk to Us

Legionnaires’ disease is a dangerous illness that can affect every part of your life. To claim the compensation you deserve from contracting it through wrongful exposure abroad, call us now on 0345 872 6666 or complete our online enquiry form and someone will get in touch with you at a time convenient for you.

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