A large outbreak of Legionnaires’ Disease in New York has people across the country curious about the disease caused by the Legionella bacterium.
There are over 100 cases of the pneumonia in the South Bronx outbreak and 10 deaths. Legionnaires’ isn’t passed person-to-person but rather from breathing the bacteria via water mist. The bacterium naturally occurs in the environment, mostly in water, including large plumbing systems, hot tubs, ornamental fountains and water tanks. The South Bronx cases are believed to be linked to rooftops cooling towers.
“In Wyoming, we have occasionally seen a case, but there have not been linked multiple cases, perhaps due to the dry climate,” Dr. Mark Dowell of Rocky Mountain Infectious Diseases said. “Thankfully it is not transmitted person-to-person.”
Legionnaires’ Disease symptoms are similar to other pneumonias: shortness of breath, fever, body aches and coughing. It can take 14 days for symptoms to manifest, which is why the number of cases in New York continues to rise. While pneumonia is diagnosed with a chest x-ray, the detection of Legionnaires’ Disease also requires a urine sample, blood test or culture.
Treatment includes antibiotics and often hospitalization. Healthy people are slightly less likely to be clinically-infected by Legionella after exposure. People older than 50, past and current smokers and those with weakened or suppressed immune systems are more susceptible to becoming ill after exposure. Proper maintenance and upkeep of water systems is the key to preventing the growth of the Legionella bacterium.