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Legionnaires' Disease

En Español (Spanish Version)

Definition | Causes | Risk Factors | Symptoms | Diagnosis | Treatment | Prevention

Definition

Legionnaires' disease is a lung infection. It is a form of pneumonia . It got its name after it struck at the American Legionnaires Convention in 1976.

Causes

This disease is caused by the bacterium Legionella pneumophilia in most cases. The bacteria are most often found in sources of standing water. It may be found in cooling towers, HVAC systems, and air conditioners.

Legionnaires' disease can be contracted by breathing water vapor from a standing water source that contains Legionella bacteria.

The Lungs

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The infection does not move from one person to another.

Risk Factors

Factors that increase your chance for Legionnaires' disease include:

  • Advanced age
  • Smoking
  • Chronic lung disease
  • Weakened immune system (as with AIDS )
  • Kidney failure
  • Diabetes
  • Taking cortisone or other immunosuppressive drugs
  • Organ transplant patients

Symptoms

Symptoms may include:

  • Fatigue
  • Fever (often high)
  • Chills and muscle aches
  • Cough
  • Headache

Diagnosis

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.

Your doctor may need pictures of your chest. This can be done with a chest x-ray .

Your doctor may need tests of your bodily fluids. This can be done with:

  • Urine tests
  • Sputum tests
  • Blood tests

Treatment

This disease is usually treated with antibiotics.

If you are diagnosed with Legionnaires' disease, follow your doctor's instructions.

Prevention

Proper design, maintenance, and cleaning of high-risk areas can reduce the risk of spreading the disease. This includes any area with standing water.

 

RESOURCES:

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

References:

  • Arcavi L, Benowitz NL. Cigarette smoking and infection. Arch Intern Med. 2004;164:2206-2216.
  • Legionellosis resource site. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/legionella/about/index.html. Updated June 1, 2011. Accessed December 31, 2012.
  • Legionnaires' disease. Occupational Safety & Health Administration website. Available at: http://www.osha.gov/dts/osta/otm/legionnaires/index.html. Accessed December 31, 2012.
  • Legionnaires' disease. Patient UK website. Available at: http://www.patient.co.uk/health/Legionnaires'-Disease.htm. Accessed December 31, 2012.
  • Pneumonia in adults. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated December 5, 2012. Accessed December 31, 2012.
  • Top 10 things every clinician needs to know about Legionellosis. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/legionella/clinicians.html. Updated June 1, 2011. Accessed December 31, 2012.

Contact Information

Kidney Tumor Program
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
330 Brookline Ave. 
Boston, MA 02215
617-632-9250

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