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Legionnaires’ Disease Cases on the Rise, Says CDC. These Are the Legionnaires’ Disease Symptoms to Look For!

Prepare yourself for this deadly illness by knowing Legionnaires’ disease symptoms and how it is spread.

Have you noticed a recent increase of Legionnaires’ disease cases in the news? Scientists have speculated an answer for that, and it has to do with pollution.

Legionnaires’ Disease Cases on the Rise, Says CDC

With only a brief look at national news, you may notice that the topic of Legionnaires’ disease has come up more often. As Legionnaires’ disease symptoms are often confused with typical pneumonia, it is likely we are only seeing a fraction of cases reported and investigated.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data suggests that roughly 1,000 cases of Legionnaires’ disease were reported in 2000. By 2018 that annual number rose to a whopping 10,000 cases. They estimate that due to misdiagnoses and underreporting, the actual number of cases may be up to 2.7 times higher than reported numbers.

Are There More Legionnaires’ Disease in the News?

Several Legionnaires’ disease outbreak investigations have hit the news in recent months.

The Cincinnati Health Department investigated Legionnaires’ disease at a Cincinnati nursing home facility – St. Margaret Hall. At least one case of Legionnaires’ disease was reported.

A public housing complex in Brownsville, near Brooklyn, was under investigation for Legionnaires’ disease. Multiple cases across at least two buildings were linked in Langston Hughes Apartments Legionnaires’ disease outbreak.

A resort in New Hampshire was also recently in the news. Two out of state residents diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease stayed at the Mountain View Grand Resort in Whitefield, New Hampshire.

And so many others.

But why are we seeing so many cases?

What is the Reason for Increased Legionnaires’ Disease Cases?

Are Legionnaires’ disease cases seeing an upward trend? It seems so. But why?

There is no definitive answer. However, there are a few theories.

Increased Access to Information

Were these cases always there or is national news becoming increasingly more reachable?

Local news used to stay fairly local. Now there are more national news stations than ever. Pair that with social media and access to unlimited information on the Internet and algorithms that give us information that the digital gurus think we need, and it is no surprise that we are more aware of what is going on in the world.

CDC Cites Better Screening

The CDC suggests it could partly be due to better screening for the disease. Legionnaires’ disease symptoms are often lumped in with other pneumonia illnesses. Historically, unless there was a specific need to test for the bacterial infection, the illness was just treated like it is pneumonia. Symptoms were managed, but specific antibiotics were not prescribed.

Screening protocols have been updated, and while it is still an underdiagnosed illness, more cases are being categorized as Legionnaires’ disease that would have previously fallen under the radar.

Scientists Point to Decreased Pollution

Decreased pollution sounds like a good thing. Right?

In the grand scheme of things, it is. Of course, it is.

However, this decreased pollution may make it easier to spread the harmful bacteria.

Drop in Air Pollution May Be Responsible for Increase in Legionnaires’ Disease Cases

How does air pollution affect Legionnaires’ disease? Scientists point to sulfur dioxide (SO2).

SO2 levels may impact the bacteria’s survival in aerosolized water droplets.

“Airborne water droplets carrying Legionella bacteria uptake SO2 from the ambient air, which can make the water droplet acidic and inhospitable for the bacteria when SO2 levels are high,” said the authors in the paper’s media release. “As SO2 pollution declined nationally, the bacteria lived longer in airborne droplets, increasing the chances that viable bacteria could end up in a person’s lungs.”

Legionnaires’ Disease Symptoms to Look For!

It can be difficult for healthcare professionals to distinguish between typical pneumonia and Legionnaires’ disease. The two illnesses are even indistinguishable from each other on a chest x-ray.

Common Legionnaires’ disease symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Headaches
  • Muscle aches
  • Shortness of breath

Other potential symptoms include nausea, diarrhea, and confusion.

Symptoms usually begin about two weeks after exposure (within 2 to 14 days). However, it can take longer in some people to become symptomatic.

If you begin to develop these symptoms and may have been exposed to Legionella bacteria, be sure to mention this to your doctor right away. Specific diagnostic testing is necessary to properly diagnose the illness and provide appropriate antibiotic treatment that may decrease the severity of the illness and aid recovery.

Tell you healthcare provider if you have spent any nights away from home, stayed in a hospital, or used a hot tub in the previous two weeks.

Now that you know what to look for, lets talk about what it is and how you get it.

What is Legionnaires’ Disease?

Legionnaires’ disease is a very serious illness affecting the patient’s lungs. Not everyone who is exposed to the bacteria will experience Legionnaires’ disease symptoms. However, statistically, one in 10 people who contract the illness will die from the disease.

This mortality rate increases when a patient contracts the disease during a hospital stay. The chance of death increases to one in four.

This risk increases for certain groups of people. People over 50 years, current and former smokers, and those with a weakened immune system are at higher risk.

How is the Disease Spread?

Legionella bacteria, the germ responsible for Legionnaires’ disease, is naturally found in freshwater environments. Streams, lakes, etc. In this environment, there is little risk for infection (except in rare circumstances).

People become sick when the bacteria find its way into human-made building water systems. If given the opportunity (in absence of effective bacterial control measures) it can grow into infectious numbers and spread through water fixtures that aerosolize water droplets.

The bacteria hitch a ride in these tiny droplets (think mist from hot tubs, fountains, showers, faucets, etc.) and enter the unknowing human’s lungs as they breathe normally.

Are You Prepared?

As Legionnaires’ disease cases are becoming more common, are you prepared? Always stay vigilant when it comes to your health. Pay attention to your body, keep up with the news, and know what to look for.

Stay in Touch with Make Food Safe!

If you’d like to know more about food safety topics in the news, like These Are the Legionnaires’ Disease Symptoms to Look For!, check out the Make Food Safe Blog. We regularly update trending topics, foodborne infections in the news, recalls, and more! Stay tuned for quality information to help keep your family safe, while The Lange Law Firm, PLLC strives to Make Food Safe!

By: Heather Van Tassell (contributing writer, non-lawyer)

Heather Van Tassell

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