Understanding Legionnaires’ Disease

By Jim Beasley


With recent reports of Legionnaires’ disease in the national news, we thought a short primer on the topic might help you better understand the illness and how it spreads.

Legionellosis, which is its actual name, is a bacterial infection that affects the lungs, but it is not spread like other, more common lung diseases like pneumonia or the flu. The illness has never been documented as passing from one person to another. Interestingly, outbreaks typically occur in the summer and early fall, but individual cases can occur anytime.

Legionellosis has two distinct types: the highly publicized Legionnaires’ disease, which is the more severe form; and Pontiac fever, which is milder.

Legionnaires’ disease can produce fever, chills and a cough that can be either dry or productive. The patient could suffer from muscle aches, headache, tiredness and loss of appetite. X-rays would likely show pneumonia and lab tests could show that kidneys are not functioning properly. Legionnaires’ disease most often affects middle-aged and older people, while Pontiac fever most commonly occurs in people who are otherwise healthy.

Legionellosis outbreaks usually occur after patients have breathed mists that come from water sources such as air conditioner cooling towers, whirlpool spas, and the bacterial film that can accumulate inside pipes leading to faucets and showers,

It is possible to treat Legionellosis using antibiotics; no treatment is needed for Pontiac fever. Efforts to improve the design of cooling towers and other plumbing systems are helping to reduce the growth of the problem bacteria.

To learn more about this illness, please visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) website.

1 thought on “Understanding Legionnaires’ Disease

  1. Bairey

    Interesting post. I had heard about the increasing likelihood of an outbreak happening in the fall. I wonder why this is the case? It is interesting to read this post because I always had the misconception that Legionnaires ‘ disease was something that got passed on person to person, so this reassures me a little.


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