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Getting sick is something that people try their best to avoid. While getting the occasional cold or having to spend a few days in bed to wait for a fever to break is a common experience and would eventually allow a person to return to his normal routine, coming down with a more serious (and potentially fatal) disease is entirely something else. Your body can fight off most diseases if you eat nutritious foods, get sufficient rest, engage in regular exercise, and avoid harmful habits, but these can only protect you so much.

Take, for example, the act of taking a shower, or visiting a spa, or watching a lights and sounds show featuring fountains at a popular theme park. These activities can be considered quite normal, enjoyable, and even good for one’s physical and emotional health, but if a harmful element happens to be present, you may unknowingly walk away from the experience with a threat to your health.

A Microscopic Threat

Legionella bacteria can be found in various water sources such as rivers, ponds and lakes, typically in small and harmless numbers. However, they may find their way into artificial water supply systems in homes, hospitals, hotels, large buildings, and other structures, and proliferate. If the conditions are just right — specifically, if the water temperature is between 20 to 45 degrees Celsius, and if the bacteria has access to food like algae, rust or limescale — there’s no stopping the bacteria from reproducing.

When people inhale water droplets containing Legionella bacteria, they may develop Legionnaires’ disease, a serious lung infection (essentially, a form of pneumonia that can be lethal). There are initial flu-like symptoms that may be observed, such as muscle pain, mild headaches, chills, tiredness, and fever. Once the infection reaches the lungs, you may begin experiencing a persistent cough, chest pains, and shortness of breath.

Some individuals have a higher risk of getting Legionnaires’ disease. These include people over 50 years of age, heavy smokers and drinkers, people with an underlying medical condition, and those with weakened immune systems.

Prevention

It’s best to employ measures that would prevent an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease. Water in supply systems should be kept clean and moving, the hot water kept heated above 60 degrees Celsius and cold water below 20 degrees Celsius to keep Legionella from growing and reproducing. For houses and buildings, Legionella water testing kits can be used periodically to check the quality of the water. Seeking medical advice is also recommended if you are at high risk of getting the disease.