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America’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that Legionella bacteria are widespread in long-term care facilities in the country. But with effective water management and the use of legionella testing kits, 75 percent of such cases can be easily prevented.

CDC’s report is based on data from documented cases of the disease in 2015.

Officials of CDC say that patients in long-term healthcare facilities are more vulnerable to Legionnaires’ disease and are more likely to succumb to it once exposed to water droplets contaminated by Legionella bacteria. The officials added that the different parts of the long-term care facility’s plumbing system, including showerheads, respiratory equipment, and even decorative fountains, can harbour Legionella.

In 2015 alone, over 2,800 case of Legionnaires’ disease were reported in the United States. Of this number, 468 or 17 percent are believed to be contracted inside healthcare facilities while 85 cases or three percent have been confirmed to be contracted outside such facilities.

Officials of the CDC have voiced concern that the confirmed cases of Legionnaires’ disease contracted from healthcare facilities is alarming and claim that it is possible it is severely under-reported — that the number of actual cases may be higher.

The study focused mainly on patients who stayed in hospitals and similar facilities for 10 days or more. However, CDC officials state that it is possible to succumb to the disease even if a person has stayed in a hospital for a shorter amount of time. They say that there is a high possibility of under diagnosis among patients who have stayed briefly in hospitals. As such, they recommend patients diagnosed with pneumonia to ask for Legionnaires’ disease testing.

Of the cases of Legionnaires’ disease that have been confirmed by CDC to have originated in healthcare facilities, 88 percent have occurred in facilities specialising in caring for seniors while cases of possible exposures have occurred in 15 hospitals and 87 long-term care facilities.

The CDC advises healthcare facilities of all sizes to become more vigilant against Legionella growth in light of the upsurge in the number of cases of Legionnaires’ disease being detected in recent years.

Along with this increase in the number of reported cases comes the increase in costs. The CDC reports that insurance costs for hospital claims have breached the $144 million mark or roughly $38,000 total cost per patient.

However, CDC officials have yet to confirm whether the increased number of reported cases can be attributed to better diagnosis, the increased number of people who belong to high risk groups, or simply more cases of outbreaks.