Legionnaires Disease

Board of Health

Legionnaires Disease

Legionnaires Disease

Legionnaires’ disease is a severe type of pneumonia that is caused by breathing in water that contains Legionella bacteria. Those bacteria end up in your lungs and can cause you to get sick. It is considered “non-communicable,” which means you can’t get it from someone else. 

Symptoms include cough, shortness of breath, fever, muscle aches, and headaches. Some patients also experience diarrhea, nausea, and confusion.

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legionnaires disease faq's

Are certain people more at risk than others?

Yes, and knowing the risk factors is important. There are individual risk factors like older age (≥50 years), being a current or former smoker, having other health conditions that affect your lungs, or having a weakened immune system.  But then there are environmental risk factors like having been in or near something that produces water vapor or mist. These are places like spas, whirlpools, hot tubs or indoor decorative fountains. It can even include showers or misters.

Does Legionnaires’ disease happen everywhere?

Yes, it can happen wherever there is fresh water that has Legionella bacteria in it.  And cases do happen across the U.S., and while it’s not a very common disease, we are seeing increases in cases.

How common is Legionnaires’ disease?

It is not that common.  In 2017, there were almost 7,500 cases of Legionnaires’ disease in the United States and 172 in Georgia.

Why are we seeing more cases?

We are not exactly sure, but experts think it’s due to a lot of reasons. These range from people getting older, to aging water infrastructure (like pipes), to increasing environmental temperatures. Doctors may also be testing more for it, and when that happens, more cases are found.

Why do I hear about hotels having problems with Legionnaires’ disease?

Legionella bacteria like to grow in warm, slow-moving water. And in large buildings like hotels, there are many, many feet of plumbing! There are also lots of water features that produce mist like spas, whirlpools, fountains and showerheads, not to mention people! Keeping all that water cool and moving can be a challenge for large buildings. If hotels do not routinely monitor their water quality, they risk having bacteria like Legionella grow in their systems.

How do you know you have Legionnaires’ disease?

You won’t know unless your doctor tests you for it. But before you rush to the doctor, think about your own health and what you’ve done recently. Do you have any lung problems usually? Have you spent time in a hot tub or whirlpool? Have you traveled recently and stayed in a hotel where other people may have felt ill? Be sure to share all those details with your doctor.

What can I do to protect myself?

First, it’s important to realize that where there’s water, there’s bacteria. The good news is that those bacteria are most likely not going to make you sick. But simple things you can do are to run every faucet in your house occasionally. That helps make sure the water in your pipes doesn’t sit still for long periods of time. You can let your water run for 15 – 20 seconds before you get into the shower, especially if you don’t know when the last time the shower was used. 

Should I contact the health department if I think I have Legionnaires’ disease?

If you suspect Legionnaires’ disease, call your doctor first.  The doctors then let us know at the health department when they find cases so we can keep track of any outbreaks or trends.