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Signs and Symptoms of Legionnaires’ Disease

legionnaires disease. legionnaires' disease from air conditioning

Legionnaires’ disease is a potentially life-threatening illness caused by a type of bacteria called Legionella. It is crucial to be aware of the signs and symptoms of Legionnaires’ disease, as well as the steps to take if you suspect you or someone you know may have contracted this disease due to negligence. 

Signs of Legionnaires’ Disease

People who contract Legionnaires’ disease may experience ranging symptoms and effects as a result of the illness. Most will experience a rapid onset of symptoms that develop within two to 10 days after exposure to the Legionella bacteria. 

Most Common Symptoms of Legionnaires’ Disease

The symptoms of Legionnaires’ disease can be similar to other forms of pneumonia, so it’s essential to watch closely for them and seek medical treatment right away if they develop. 

Some of the most commonly experienced Legionellosis symptoms include:

High Fever and Chills 

One of the initial signs of Legionnaires’ disease is a sudden onset of high fever, often exceeding 104°F (40°C). Accompanied by chills, this fever is usually persistent and may worsen over time.

Cough and Chest Pain 

Patients may experience a persistent cough, which can range from mild to severe. Chest pain, often described as sharp or stabbing, is also a common symptom due to the infection’s impact on the lungs.

Shortness of Breath 

As the disease progresses, individuals may find it increasingly difficult to breathe. This symptom is a result of the pneumonia caused by Legionella bacteria, which affects the lungs’ ability to function effectively.

Fatigue and Weakness 

Legionnaires’ disease can lead to extreme fatigue and a general feeling of weakness. This is partly due to the body’s immune response, which can be taxing on energy levels.

Muscle Aches and Headaches

Many individuals with Legionnaires’ disease experience muscle aches, often in the back, arms, and legs. Headaches are also common, and can range from mild to severe.

Gastrointestinal Symptoms

Some patients may develop gastrointestinal issues such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. These symptoms can accompany or precede the respiratory symptoms.

If you or someone you know experiences any of these signs, especially after potential exposure to contaminated water sources, consult a healthcare professional immediately. 

Side Effects of Legionnaires’ Disease

Legionnaires’ disease can lead to a range of complications. Some potential secondary conditions associated with the disease include:

Respiratory Failure 

In severe cases, especially if not promptly treated, Legionnaires’ disease can lead to respiratory failure. This occurs when the lungs can’t provide enough oxygen to meet the body’s needs.

Acute Kidney Injury (AKI)

Legionnaires’ disease can affect the kidneys, leading to a sudden loss of kidney function. This can be temporary or, in severe cases, may require dialysis.

Septic Shock 

In some cases, the infection can lead to septic shock, a life-threatening condition where the body’s response to the infection causes a dangerous drop in blood pressure. This can lead to multiple organ failure.

Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation (DIC)

This is a serious condition where the body’s blood-clotting system becomes overactive, which can lead to excessive bleeding and clotting throughout the body.

Hyponatremia 

Legionnaires’ disease can sometimes lead to a condition called hyponatremia, which is an abnormally low level of sodium in the blood. This can lead to symptoms like confusion, seizures, and coma.

Neurological Complications

Rarely, Legionnaires’ disease can lead to neurological complications such as confusion, seizures, or altered mental status.

Myocarditis

Inflammation of the heart muscle (myocarditis) can occur in severe cases. This can lead to irregular heartbeats, chest pain, and heart failure.

Multi-organ Failure 

In severe cases, Legionnaires’ disease can cause failure of multiple organs, such as the heart, kidneys, liver, or lungs.

Long-term Lung Damage:

Some individuals may experience long-term lung damage, which can lead to chronic respiratory problems.

Who Is Most at Risk?

Certain groups are more susceptible to contracting Legionnaires’ disease. This includes:

  • Older Individuals, especially those over the age of 50.
  • Smokers, as smoking weakens the immune system, making individuals more vulnerable to infections. 
  • People with compromised immune systems, such as those undergoing chemotherapy or those with conditions like HIV/AIDS.
  • Individuals with chronic lung conditions, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
  • Organ transplant recipients, due to the need for immunosuppressive medications.

What Causes Legionnaires’ Disease?

Legionnaires’ disease is caused by inhaling small water droplets contaminated with Legionella bacteria. This bacterium thrives in natural water sources like rivers and lakes, but it can also be found in man-made water systems such as cooling towers, hot tubs, plumbing systems, and even decorative fountains. Knowing what Legionnaires’ disease is and what causes it may help people avoid exposure to contaminated water sources.

How Does Legionnaires’ Disease Spread?

The transmission of Legionnaires’ disease occurs through the inhalation of contaminated water droplets. This can happen when droplets become airborne, often from sources like cooling towers, showers, and even indoor plants that have been watered with contaminated water.

Common Sources for Bacteria

Understanding where Legionella bacteria can proliferate is crucial in preventing Legionnaires’ disease. The following are some of the most common sources of Legionella contamination:

Cooling Towers

Can you get Legionnaires’ disease from air conditioning? Cooling towers, often part of large-scale air conditioning systems in buildings, are notorious breeding grounds for Legionella. If not properly maintained, they can disperse contaminated water droplets into the surrounding environment, potentially infecting those nearby.

Hot Water Tanks and Heaters 

Legionella bacteria can also colonize hot water tanks and heaters, particularly if the water temperature is not maintained at a level high enough to inhibit bacterial growth. Sediment buildup and inadequate disinfection can further exacerbate the issue. 

Plumbing Systems

Legionella can colonize the pipes, faucets, and fixtures of plumbing systems, especially in large buildings or facilities with complex water distribution systems. Stagnant water, tepid temperatures, and nutrient-rich sediments provide an ideal environment for bacterial growth. When water flow is disrupted, such as during maintenance or periods of low use, aerosolized droplets can carry the bacteria.

Hot Tubs and Jacuzzis

The warm, stagnant water in hot tubs and whirlpools provides an ideal environment for Legionella growth. Bathers can inhale aerosolized droplets containing the bacteria, especially if the water is not adequately treated or the system is poorly maintained.

Spas and Decorative Fountains 

Similar to hot tubs, spas, and fountains that use recirculated water can harbor Legionella. Water features with inadequate filtration or disinfection measures can become breeding grounds for the bacteria, putting visitors at risk.

Steps to Take if You Have Legionnaires’ Disease

If you suspect you have contracted Legionnaires’ disease, it is crucial to take immediate action. Here are the steps you should follow to ensure your health, and to help prevent further outbreaks:

Seek Medical Attention

The first and most important step if you suspect you have Legionnaires’ disease is to seek immediate medical attention. Early diagnosis and treatment are crucial for a full recovery. Therefore, you should watch for symptoms of the disease and, if you notice any, especially if you’ve been in a high-risk environment (such as a hotel, hospital, or cruise ship), seek medical help right away.

Call your healthcare provider or go to the nearest emergency room immediately. Be sure to inform them of your symptoms, travel history, and any possible exposure to environments where Legionella bacteria might be present.

Your healthcare provider will conduct various tests to confirm the presence of Legionnaires’ disease. These may include blood tests, chest X-rays, and sputum cultures. Swift diagnosis is essential for timely treatment.

If you are diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease, your healthcare provider will prescribe appropriate antibiotics. It’s crucial to take the full course of medication, even if you start feeling better, before finishing it. Follow all medical advice provided by your healthcare team.

Report the Outbreak

Reporting an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease is essential for public health and safety. It helps identify and address the source of the bacteria, preventing further cases. Here’s what you should do:

Notify Local Health Authorities

Contact your local health department or relevant authorities to report your case of Legionnaires’ disease. They will guide you on the necessary steps and may conduct an investigation to trace the source of the bacteria.

Provide Detailed Information

Be prepared to provide detailed information about your activities and whereabouts leading up to the onset of symptoms. This includes travel history, places you’ve stayed, and any potential exposure to environments where Legionella bacteria might be present.

Cooperate With Contact Tracing Efforts

Health departments may conduct contact tracing to identify and notify individuals who may have been exposed to the bacteria. Cooperate fully with their efforts, as this is crucial in preventing further cases.

If you suspect you’ve contracted Legionnaires’ disease due to negligent water management in a public or private facility, you may benefit by hiring a Legionnaires’ disease lawyer. Attorneys who focus on this area of practice navigate complex regulations and pursue compensation for medical costs, suffering, and potential long-term effects. They investigate the source, gather evidence, and build a strong case against responsible parties. 

A lawyer will explain how much a Legionnaires’ disease lawsuit is worth, and aid you in pursuing fair compensation for your illness-associated losses.

The George Bochanis Injury Law Offices was established in 1985. Before opening his office, Mr. Bochanis spent years representing major insurance companies in litigation cases and prior to that was a law clerk to a prominent local district court judge. Our offices have grown from a small one person setting to having its own well known office location on South Ninth Street in Downtown Las Vegas with 15 employees.

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