Health Departments warn of increasing rates of Legionaire’s Disease
Watch out for Legionellosis!
Wisconsin seeing increasing rates of Legionnaire’s Disease, a severe respiratory illness
Though Legionellosis is uncommon in Lincoln County, Wisconsin has been seeing a larger number of people infected with it in the past few years.
In 2018, Wisconsin saw 334 cases of Legionellosis, which is almost double the amount from the previous year. Wisconsin isn’t the only state seeing increases in Legionellosis, either. The US is currently seeing the highest rates of Legionellosis in over 20 years.
Legionellosis comes in two forms: Pontiac Fever and Legionnaire’s Disease. While Pontiac Fever is a mild respiratory illness, Legionnaire’s Disease is more severe with pneumonia-like symptoms. These symptoms include muscle aches, headache, tiredness, loss of appetite, coughing, fever, and diarrhea.
While Legionella bacteria is found in naturally wet/moist environments worldwide, Legionellosis is transmitted to people mostly through large man-made water systems. People can become sick when they breathe in mist from a water source that contains Legionella bacteria. Common causes are inhaling steam from a hot tub or a shower, or the mist from cooling towers in air conditioning units. Outbreaks are most often linked to large complex water systems like those found in hospitals, long-term care facilities, hotels, and cruise ships. Legionellosis is not normally spread from person to person.
Those sick with Pontiac Fever need only supportive care, as it will go away on its own, but Legionnaire’s Disease must be treated with an antibiotic. “If you develop symptoms of Legionnaire’s Disease it’s important to contact your health care provider,” noted Meghan Williams, Registered Environmental Health Specialist, Lincoln County Health Department.
“Be sure to mention if you spent any nights away from home in the last 10 days.”
Most healthy people that are exposed to Legionella will not become sick. People with weakened immune systems, smokers, elderly, or those who have underlying respiratory conditions, however, are at a higher risk of becoming sick with Legionellosis. Most people who become sick with Legionnaire’s Disease need to be hospitalized, but will make a full recovery. About 1 in 10 people sick with Legionnaire’s will die from the disease.
As there is no vaccine for Legionellosis, the best way to prevent the spread of it is by keeping the Legionella bacteria from growing. To do this, it is important to make sure that water systems in buildings are being properly maintained and tested regularly.