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Health officials are warning the public about a Legionnaires’ disease outbreak linked to a New Hampshire campground.
Five cases, each requiring hospitalization, all have something in common. They all stayed at the Meredith Woods and Clearwater Campground in Meredith, New Hampshire prior to becoming sick. These illnesses spanned a period from Fall 2021 to January 2023.
Each person recovered and no deaths have been reported at this time, but the presence of Legionella bacteria persists in the camps water system.
Outbreak Investigation is Ongoing
Investigators continue to work with park officials to mitigate the problem and risk of exposure. The park is still open, however; the outbreak investigation is ongoing.
“Anybody choosing to stay at this facility should be aware of the ongoing outbreak investigation and potential risk for exposure to Legionella bacteria through the facility’s water system,” State Epidemiologist Dr. Benjamin Chan said in a statement.
What is Legionnaires’ Disease
Legionnaires’ disease is the pnuemonial illness associated with infection with the Legionella bacteria. Legionnaires’ disease is one of two illnesses one can develop after exposure. The other is Pontiac Fever.
Pontiac Fever is the less severe illness associated with Legionella infection. Those with Pontiac Fever do not have pneumonia. General symptoms include fever and muscle aches, often starting anywhere from a few hours to 3 days after exposure to Legionella bacteria. Illness resolves much faster than Legionnaires’ disease, only lasting a week or less.
Legionnaires’ disease on the other hand is very serious; even potentially fatal. In fact, 1 in 10 of those diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease die. This disease is often under-diagnosed because it presents similar symptoms to other types of pneumonia illnesses. It can even look like other respiratory illnesses on a chest x-ray. Symptoms include cough, shortness of breath, fever, muscle aches, and headaches. Additional symptoms may include diarrhea, nausea, and confusion. Most people become sick somewhere between 2 and 14 days after exposure to the Legionella bacteria, though in certain cases it may take longer.
How Do People Get Infected?
People usually get infected with Legionella bacteria from contaminated water systems, though Legionella can grow in fresh water.
Legionnaires’ Disease is Not Contagious
Legionnaires’ disease is not contagious and cannot be transferred from person to person. Or even from drinking contaminated water.
Aerosolized Contaminated Water
Legionnaires’ disease is caused by inhaling the bacteria in small water droplets. Fine mist or aerosolized water can come from showers, hot tubs, faucets, cooling towers, misters, and even decorative fountains. In rare cases, aspiration of drinking water (water going down the “wrong pipe”) can cause infection.
Certain Populations are Higher Risk
While most healthy individuals will not even become sick from exposure to Legionella bacteria, certain groups are at higher risk for serious and life-threatening illness after exposure.
Those over 50 years old, particularly those who smoke are more likely to become sick after exposure and experience more severe symptoms and higher risk of death. Also, those with certain medical conditions such as chronic lung disease or other chronic health conditions are at an increased risk. Those with a compromised immune system, whether due to medication, pre-existing illness, or other conditions are more likely to contract Legionnaires’ disease after exposure and have serious symptoms.
Testing for Legionnaires’ Disease
There are several types of tests a health care provider can choose from to determine if a patient has been infected with the Legionella bacteria and may have developed Legionnaires’ disease, as opposed to some other type of respiratory illness. Treatment for Legionnaires’ disease is specialized, and while basic pneumonia treatment may work in many cases, it can delay the patient’s recovery. For some, this may mean a fatal outcome. Proper diagnosis is necessary for appropriate medication to effectively treat Legionnaires’ disease.
Urine tests are one of the most commonly used for diagnosing Legionella infection. This test looks for a specific antigen in the urine. The Legionella bacteria deposits a specific molecule in the urine.
This test, however, only detects the most common strain of Legionella bacteria. A negative urine antigen test does not rule out Legionnaires’ disease. Additional testing may be needed.
Bacterial culturing is another, more definitive diagnostic method. A culture test allows the bacteria to grow on a media (or food source) that supports the growth of that specific bacteria and rules out others. In this case, buffered Charcoal Yeast Extract agar is used.
Samples needed for this type of test include lower respiratory secretions, lung tissues, and pleural fluid. The problem often comes with laboratory rejection standards. The typical standards do not apply to Legionella culture. Many labs will reject samples if there aren’t enough white blood cells or if the sample may be contaminated with another bacteria. Significant white blood cells in Legionnaires’ disease sputum samples are not common and selective media is used so potential extraneous bacterial contamination is not a problem.
While this diagnostic tool can detect any strain of Legionella bacteria, it is a slow process. It generally takes at least 5 days for the culture to grow enough to be analyzed.
Genetic tests, such a PCR (polymerase chain reaction) are a fast diagnostic tool. It can be performed on most specimens and can detect more than just the most common strain. It is often used to confirm other types of tests.
Unfortunately, this type of testing isn’t always available in every setting. It requires specific reagents and specialized lab equipment and analysts. However, the tests can usually be outsourced when needed.
Legionella Bacteria Found at Campground
State officials say that Legionella bacteria contamination has been found in the water system at several locations in the campground. Health officials are working with the campground’s owners and an environmental consultant to eliminate the Legionella bacteria contamination and help prevent it from happening again in the future by implementing a water prevention and management plan.
State Health Officials warn that there is a chance that more locations at the campground could still be contaminated.
“Anybody who has stayed at this facility in the last couple of weeks and develops pneumonia or fever and respiratory symptoms such as cough, shortness of breath, headache and muscle aches, should talk to their healthcare provider about testing for Legionella infection, which can impact treatment decisions,” Chan said in a statement.
Are you concerned for yourself or someone you love that may have fallen ill with Legionnaires’ disease? Contact The Lange Law Firm, PLLC to schedule your free, no obligation legal consultation with a Legionnaires’ disease lawyer who has a reputation for success in handling cases just like yours. Call (833)330-3663 or fill out the online contact form to get the answers you deserve.