Legionnaires’ disease is one of those medical conditions that can be the stuff that urban legends are made of. Can you really catch it when you choke on water? Did some people in Louisiana really get it just by shopping in a supermarket? Does something as ordinary as taking a showerreally put you at risk? Was it really named after the outbreak of pneumonia caused by the then-unknown strain of bacteria that affected members of the American Legion who were staying at the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel in Philadelphia?
The answer to the fascinating question above is yes, but it is important that you know more about the facts and context behind these stories to implement your own action plans to prevent Legionnaires’ disease from affecting your household.
Legionnaires’ disease is caused by a type of bacteria called legionella, which breeds in environments with warm or hot water. Contaminated water droplets carry the bacteria and when you inhale these droplets, they can go to your lungs – a warm, moist area – and breed there (that’s why you can get it when you cough or choke when drinking water since the contaminated liquid can enter your lungs.). As the disease is a type of pneumonia, the symptoms are similar: coughing, high fever, chills, muscle and joint aches and headaches.
Most people who catch the disease have a high rate of recovery after careful medical monitoring and a round of prescribed antibiotics treatment. However, it could be seriously life-threatening if not addressed immediately. Some patients will also be at higher risk than others. If you are a smoker, or older than 50 years old, or have chronic lung disease, or with a weak immune system due to illness or medication, diagnosis and treatment should be more responsive and aggressive because you are more at risk for complications.
It’s true that you could get Legionnaires’ disease from everyday water sources. Some of the identified areas at risk include showers, car washes, indoor fountains, sprinklers and hose systems. Beware of public bathing areas such as swimming pools, spas and Jacuzzis that do not follow strict cleaning and disinfecting processes. Health care institutions are especially monitored as studies show the high risk of potential legionella contamination in water sources in hospitals, surgery rooms and dental clinics. And the case of the Louisiana grocery outbreak? It was traced to a contaminated misting fan or spray humidifier that was aimed at shoppers to keep them cool.
One myth that should be exposed about Legionnaires’ disease is that it’s a mysterious illness that some people do not manage to catch only through sheer luck. There are many ways to avoid it, and it all starts with making sure the water sources and systems in your household are tested to confirm that they are free from this type of bacteria. You could make use of practical and inexpensive legionella testing kits that show immediate, accurate results. Investing in the right testing kit is investing in valuable information that can save lives and improve the health of your household.