Doctors explain Legionnaires’ Disease

Published: Mar. 1, 2023 at 10:56 PM EST
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Legionnaires’ disease travels through water droplets in the air and can lead to a deadly type of pneumonia or lung infection – which can be particularly dangerous in a nursing home.

An infectious disease doctor says how you mitigate the spread is crucial.

Dr. Helmet Albrecht is an infectious disease doctor with Prisma Health. He says this disease poses a greater risk for the elderly than younger folks.

“The older, the worst, and patients with a weak immune system, " said Dr. Albrecht.

Also, people who are current or former smokers and people with chronic lung diseases. This disease is unlikely to spread from person to person, and while outbreaks can occur, cases are usually isolated. Dr. Albrecht suggests finding the source of the bacteria if multiple people inside a facility test positive for the disease.

He says “With these outbreaks in nursing homes or in hospitals where they stop the entire water flow and did not bathe the patients that actually gives you more legionella. You should actually let the water system flush it out and not allow it to stand there.”

As far as how long it can take to get over the disease Dr. Albercht says it depends on how severe your symptoms are.

“So most people actually never realize they have this or have pneumonia that will never be diagnosed because they handle this in the outpatient setting but if you have a severe case you have to get on a ventilator. It could take weeks to a month to get over this,” he said

He says many people are exposed to this disease daily and finding it in nursing homes is common.

“In nursing homes, you have a larger building, you have a larger cooling tower and larger water systems and you have a whole lot of susceptible individuals,” he said

Symptoms of legionnaire’s disease are like covid and the flu and include fever, chills, and a cough. In some cases, it will cause muscle aches, headaches, tiredness, and loss of appetite.

Symptoms of the disease usually occur 2 to 10 days after exposure. Doctors say the disease can be treated with antibiotics, but according to the CDC 1 out of 10 people who get Legionnaires’ disease will die from the infection.

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