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Sioux Falls Legionnaires Disease – What You Need to Know

Posted in Legionnaire's disease,Outbreaks & Recalls on September 22, 2018

Health officials are still searching for a source to the Sioux Falls Legionnaires disease outbreak. In addition, KSFY says that health officials are investigating the jump in the number of cases locally. The South Dakota Department of Health said Thursday there are 14 confirmed cases of Legionnaires’ disease in people who live in or have traveled to Sioux Falls. The reports also note that 14 people were hospitalized and one died. The patients range in age from 36 to 80.

Abnormal Numbers

South Dakota usually sees between eight and 15 cases of Legionnaires’ disease reported each year. As of Sept. 20, 24 cases have been reported in the state this year.

According to the Argus Leader The South Dakota Department of Health is calling federal reinforcements to investigate an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease centered around Sioux Falls. The Department of Health has requested the assistance of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to investigate the sharp increase in cases of the disease, a type of pneumonia caused by the Legionella bacteria.

“In addition to enhanced case investigations, CDC will assist us with environmental assessments and testing to identify water sources that may contain the Legionella bacteria,” said Dr. Joshua Clayton, state epidemiologist, in a news release. “However, it is often the case that a single source may not be found.”

Health Department Statements

The South Dakota Department of Health issued the following in a statement on September 20:

Occurring more frequently in hot humid weather, Legionnaires’ disease spreads in water vapor. By inhaling the fine spray from water sources containing Legionella bacteria, someone can get sick. Legionnaires’ does not spread person to person or by someone drinking water. Health agencies have associated Legionnaires’ disease outbreaks with cooling towers (part of large air conditioning systems), decorative fountains or hot tubs in other states.

In addition to case investigations and environmental assessments, CDC will be assisting the Department to provide an education program for businesses on the proper maintenance and operation of cooling towers, hot tubs and other water features. The Sioux Falls Health Department will be coordinating outreach to local businesses.

“As with past public health concerns, we are ready to assist the South Dakota State Department of Health investigate Legionella cases and to help identify opportunities to reduce risk to this community,” said Sioux Falls Public Health Director Jill Franken.

Legionnaires’ disease

Most people exposed to Legionella bacteria don’t develop Legionnaires’ disease. People over the age of 50, smokers or those with certain medical conditions, including weakened immune systems, chronic lung disease or other chronic health conditions are at increased risk for Legionnaires’ disease. Symptoms include muscle aches, chills, shortness of breath, headache, fatigue, loss of appetite and coughing. High fever and pneumonia may follow. Individuals experiencing these symptoms should see their healthcare provider.

What the CDC Says About Legionnaires’ Disease

Legionella (LEE-juh-nell-a) bacteria cause Legionnaires’ (LEE-juh-nares) disease. This disease is a serious type of pneumonia (lung infection). Legionella can also cause a milder illness called Pontiac fever. So, people can get sick when they breathe in mist or accidentally swallow water into the lungs containing Legionella. Most people exposed to Legionella do not get sick. However, people 50 years or older, current or former smokers, and people with a weakened immune system or chronic disease are at increased risk.

Legionnaires’ disease symptoms are similar to other types of pneumonia. Hence, it often looks the same on a chest x-ray.

Legionnaires’ disease is very similar to other types of pneumonia (lung infection), with symptoms that include:

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

Legionnaires’ disease can also be associated with other symptoms such as diarrhea, nausea, and confusion. Symptoms usually begin 2 to 10 days after being exposed to the bacteria. But it can take longer so people should watch for symptoms for about 2 weeks after exposure.

If you develop pneumonia symptoms, see a doctor right away. One should be sure to mention if you may have been exposed to Legionella. Especially if you have used a hot tub, spent any nights away from home, or stayed in a hospital in the last two weeks.

Diagnosis

People with Legionnaires’ disease have pneumonia (lung infection). Doctors confirm this by chest x-rays or CT scans. Clinicians typically use two preferred types of tests to see if Legionella caused a patient’s pneumonia:

  • Urine test
  • Laboratory test that involves taking a sample of sputum (phlegm) or washing from the lung
Treatment and Complications

Antibiotics (medicines that kill bacteria in the body) treat Legionnaires’ disease. In most cases, doctors can treat this illness successfully. Healthy people usually get better after being sick with Legionnaires’ disease, but they often need care in the hospital.

Possible complications of Legionnaires’ disease include:

  • Lung failure
  • Death
Water Management Programs

It should be noted, no vaccine exists to prevent Legionnaires’ disease.

Instead, the key to preventing Legionnaires’ disease is to make sure that building owners and managers maintain building water systems in order to reduce the risk of Legionella growth and spread. Examples of building water systems that might grow and spread Legionella may include:

  • Hot tubs
  • Hot water tanks and heaters
  • Large plumbing systems
  • Cooling towers (structures that contain water and a fan as part of centralized air cooling systems for building or industrial processes)
  • Decorative fountains

Until very recently, I had no idea what Legionnaires’ disease was and really didn’t realize that people could be seriously putting themselves at risk. This summer we acquired a cooling tower that uses a tank of water to create an evaporative cooling system for our garage. So, I learned how someone becomes sick with Legionnaires and the real risks provided by MakeFoodSafe. Then, I really started to be more careful with how we used our cooling tower. We do not leave water sitting in the tank and make sure to clean the tank properly as well. Obviously, I am now being hypervigilant. Without a doubt, at this point there are no stops I won’t pull out to make sure that my family is as safe as possible.

Therefore, if you suspect you have Legionnaires’ disease, please contact a doctor as soon as possible for tests and treatment options.

Our Legionnaires’ Lawyer is Here to Help You

If you believe you have developed Legionnaires’ disease, we want you to know that a Legionnaires’ Lawyer at the Lange Law Firm, PLLC is currently investigating this matter and offering free legal consultations. Our lawyer, Jory Lange became a lawyer to help make our communities and families safer.

If you or a loved one have become ill with Legionnaires’ disease, you can call 833.330.3663 for a free consultation or complete the form here.

By: Samantha Cooper, Contributing Writer (Non-Lawyer)