American public health officials say that fatality rates from Legionnaires' disease have decreased.

When the dreaded disease was discovered in 1976 and caused an outbreak at a convention in Philadelphia, American health officials were caught unaware and were unable to promptly deal with it. Because it was ill-prepared, Philadelphia suffered 34 deaths.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to date, roughly 5,000 cases of the disease are reported annually in the United States. Of that number, one out of 10 people infected dies from the disease.

Janet Briscoe, an epidemiologist at the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department, attributes the recent downtrend in Legionnaires' disease fatalities to improved detection and treatment of the disease, as well as the increased awareness of health officials and the public manifested through the enforcement of control measures, like the performance of a test for Legionella bacteria.

Briscoe further explains that compared to the victims of the Philadelphia outbreak, patients who succumb to the disease are getting prompt treatment and healthcare practitioners can now identify the disease sooner. In turn, this has led to the lower number of deaths from the disease.

Allison Adler of the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources confirms Briscoe's statement. According to Adler, the disease is uncommon in her state, with the highest number of reported cases being pegged at 49 in 2014. Of the 233 confirmed cases of the disease in West Virginia, only 10 people have died.

In Kanawha County, there has not been any reported case of Legionnaires' disease since 2009. Public health officials state that this enviable record is due to the prompt action they enforce. Once a patient is reported to have succumbed to the disease, health officials conduct an interview. The goal of this interview is to determine whether other people who have become infected were exposed to the same source or not. Afterwards, environmental testing is conducted.

Legionella bacteria, which cause Legionnaires' disease, are commonly found in warm freshwater. A person can be infected with the disease upon inhalation of contaminated water droplets.

If the person infected is young and fit, is diagnosed early and receives prompt treatment, he or she can recover from the disease. However, when the infected person has poor health, is elderly, or suffers from a lung disorder, the risk of fatality increases.

Antibiotics are used to treat the disease. Experts recommend the commencement of treatment even without the confirmation of a laboratory test if Legionnaires' disease is suspected.