Legionnaires Disease

What is Legionnaires Disease

Legionnaires disease is a lung infection caused by Legionella pneumophila bacteria. These bacteria usually grow in places that hold warm water, such as:

  • Large air-conditioning systems.
  • Complex plumbing systems, such as pipes, faucets, and showerheads in hotels, hospitals, or cruise ships.
  • Public whirlpool spas.
  • Decorative fountains.
  • Hot water tanks.

5 Interesting Facts of Legionnaires disease

  1. Atypical pneumonia caused by Legionella bacteria (Legionella pneumophilaLegionella micdadei, and several other species)
  2. Similar to Mycoplasma pneumoniae, disease presents with cough, fever, and malaise
  3. Although interstitial infiltrates maybe present on chest radiograph in pneumonia due to either Legionella or Mycoplasma, dense multilobar infiltrates and pleural effusions are more common in Legionella pneumonia
  4. Differentiating features:
    • Abdominal pain can be present, with or without diarrhea, unlike in Mycoplasma pneumoniae infection 
    • Unlike with Mycoplasma pneumoniae, bradycardia is a sign of Legionella pneumonia
    • Hepatic involvement and electrolyte abnormalities (hyponatremia and hypophosphatemia) are also characteristic features of Legionella pneumonia
  5. Several laboratory tests may be used to diagnose legionnaires disease, including urinary antigen detection, molecular testing of sputum samples, and culture of lower respiratory tract samples

What are the causes?

This condition is caused by by Legionella pneumophila bacteria. You can get legionnaires disease by breathing in mist that contains the bacteria.

What increases the risk?

This condition is more likely to develop in people who:

  • Are age 50 or older.
  • Smoke.
  • Drink a lot of alcohol often.
  • Have long-lasting lung problems.
  • Have a weak body defense system (immune system).
  • Have medical conditions such as:
    • Cancer.
    • Kidney failure.
    • Diabetes.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of this condition include:

  • High fever.
  • Shaking or chills.
  • Cough. This may sometimes bring up mucus or bloody mucus.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Chest pain.
  • Headache.
  • Muscle pain.
  • Tiredness and weakness.
  • Poor appetite.
  • Confusion.

How is this diagnosed?

This condition is diagnosed based on symptoms and a physical exam. You may have tests, such as:

  • A chest X-ray.
  • Blood tests.
  • Urine tests.
  • A tissue culture.

How is this treated?

This condition is treated with antibiotic medicine.

Follow these instructions at home:

  • Take your antibiotic medicine as told by your health care provider. Do not stop taking the antibiotic even if you start to feel better.
  • Drink enough fluid to keep your urine clear or pale yellow.
  • Rest often. Give your lungs time to return to normal.
  • To reduce your cough, raise (elevate) your back and head when you are in bed. Ask your health care provider about other ways to reduce your cough.
  • Keep all follow-up visits as told by your health care provider. This is important.

Contact a health care provider if:

  • Your symptoms get worse.
  • You become confused.

Get help right away if:

  • You have trouble breathing.
  • You have chest pain.

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