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What Is Legionnaires’ Disease?

Residents of Las Vegas, Nevada, diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease might wonder: “what is Legionnaires’ disease?” Legionnaires’ disease is a lung infection caused by Legionella bacteria. The infection can be life-threatening, particularly in older adults and people with weakened immunity.

Legionella bacteria exist naturally in warm water. Common sources of the bacteria include hot tubs, cooling towers, and large plumbing systems. Symptoms of Legionnaires’ disease usually start 2 to 10 days after exposure to the bacteria and may include fever, cough, shortness of breath, muscle aches, and headache. You may have grounds for compensation if you contract Legionnaires’ disease due to someone else’s negligence.

What Is Legionnaires’ Disease?

Legionnaires’ disease is a bacterial infection that range from mild to severe. The bacteria that cause this disease exist in contaminated water and potting mixes. The disease falls into three different categories, depending on where you got exposed to the bacteria. These categories include community-acquired, travel-acquired, or hospital-acquired.

The most common cause of legionnaires’ disease is Legionella pneumophila, found in lakes, rivers, hot springs, and other bodies of water. Other species of Legionella, such as L. longbeachae, thrive in potting mixes.

Legionella pneumophila was first identified in 1977 as the cause of an outbreak of pneumonia in a convention center in the United States. It has since been linked to outbreaks in poorly maintained artificial water systems. The amount of Legionella bacteria needed to cause illness is unknown, but it’s considered low for people with weakened or suppressed immunity.

Illness can occur after short-term exposures to Legionella, even if you are several miles away from the source of the outbreak. The chances of getting sick depend on several factors, including the concentration of Legionella bacteria in the water source, aerosol production and dissemination, your age and health status, and the virulence of the particular strain of Legionella.

Most people who get exposed to Legionella bacteria do not get sick. However, those who do get sick may experience symptoms that can be mild or life-threatening.

Symptoms and Signs of Legionnaires’ Disease

Symptoms of Legionnaires’ disease include fever, headache, muscle aches, and cough. They usually appear two to ten days after getting exposed to the bacteria that cause the disease. Sometimes, patients may also experience shortness of breath, chest pain, gastrointestinal symptoms, and confusion.

Besides the lungs, it can also cause infections in other major organs like the heart. A milder form of the disease, Pontiac fever, can produce symptoms similar to the flu. The fever, however, does not infect the lungs and usually clears up within two to five days.

See a doctor immediately if you think you might have been exposed to Legionella bacteria and are experiencing symptoms related to the disease.

Risk Factors for Legionnaires’ Disease

People who are more prone to Legionnaires’ disease are those who have a weakened immune system, a chronic lung disease, or are 50 years of age or older. Smoking can also increase the risk of getting infected. Legionnaires’ disease can be a huge problem in nursing homes and hospitals, where germs can spread easily, and people are more prone to infection.

People with a weakened immune system include those with HIV/AIDS, cancer, or those who are taking medications that suppress the immune system. Examples of chronic lung diseases that can make you susceptible to Legionnaires’ disease include emphysema, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and asthma.

How Is Legionnaires’ Disease Diagnosed?

Legionnaires’ disease is diagnosed based on clinical symptoms, chest X-ray or CT scans, and additional tests. The most commonly used test is a urine antigen test, which detects L. pneumophila serogroup 1. However, it does not detect other Legionella species or serogroups. So, a negative test does not rule out Legionnaires’ disease.

A blood test can also be performed, but two blood draws are required. The first blood draw is done during the acute phase of the disease, and the second blood draw is done 3–6 weeks later. A positive diagnosis is made based on a four-fold titer increase from the first test to the second.

The most reliable test is a culture, which can detect all species and serogroups of Legionella bacteria. Your doctor will collect the culture from the sputum or washing from the lung (Bronchoalveolar Lavage or BAL).

Legionnaires’ Disease Complications

Legionnaires’ disease is a serious illness that can lead to several life-threatening complications. These complications include respiratory failure, septic shock, acute kidney failure, and heart problems.

Respiratory failure may occur when the lungs fail to provide the body with adequate oxygen or remove less carbon dioxide from the blood. This complication may require hospitalization and mechanical ventilation.

The disease may also trigger septic shock, which occurs when the body’s natural response to an infection causes severe inflammation and low blood pressure. It can lead to organ failure on multiple organs and death.

Acute kidney failure, for instance, causes the kidneys to stop working properly. This inefficiency prevents the kidney from filtering waste products from the blood. As such, the patient will require dialysis or a kidney transplant.

Legionnaires’ disease can cause neurological complications like confusion, seizures, and coma. It may also result in heart problems, such as endocarditis (inflammation of the heart’s inner lining), myocarditis (heart muscle inflammation), and pericarditis (inflammation of the sac surrounding the heart).

The gastrointestinal problems associated with the disease include diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting.

Patients may experience muscle problems in the form of rhabdomyolysis, the breakdown of muscle tissue that can lead to kidney failure. The disease can be fatal, especially in older adults and people with underlying health conditions.

Most Common Places to Contract Legionnaires’ Disease

The disease is typically contracted by inhaling water droplets that contain the bacteria. These droplets can come from various sources, including but not limited to cooling towers, hot tubs, fountains, potable water, and home water systems.

Cooling towers cool large buildings, such as hospitals, hotels, and office buildings. The water in cooling towers can become stagnant and warm, creating an ideal environment for Legionella bacteria to grow. Hot tubs can also be a source of Legionnaires’ disease since the warm water can act as a breeding ground for the bacteria.

Decorative fountains can be a source of Legionnaires’ disease, especially if they contain stagnant water contaminated with Legionella bacteria. In rare cases, you can contract Legionnaires’ disease from drinking water. But this is more likely to happen if the water has been stagnant for a long time.

Legionella bacteria can also grow in-home water systems, such as hot water tanks and pipes. They thrive in water systems that are not properly maintained.

Preventive Measures Against Legionnaires’ Disease

Legionellosis is a public health threat that health departments in Las Vegas can address by implementing water safety plans. These plans should be specific to the building or water system and should include control measures to minimize the growth of Legionella and the dissemination of aerosols.

Some examples of control measures include:

  •  Regularly maintaining, cleaning, and disinfecting cooling towers.
  • Installing drift eliminators to reduce the dissemination of aerosols from cooling towers.
  • Maintaining an adequate level of biocide in spa pools and draining and cleaning the whole system at least once a week.
  • Keeping cold and hot water systems clean at all times.
  • Keeping the hot water above 122° F and the cold water below 77° F, or treating them with a biocide.
  • Reducing stagnation by flushing unused water fixtures in buildings every week.

Pursuing a Legionnaires’ Disease Lawsuit in Las Vegas, Nevada

If you believe you caught Legionnaires’ disease due to another party’s negligence, you may file a lawsuit against the responsible party. You must, however, prove the liable party owed you a duty of care, the party breached the duty of care, the breach caused your injury, and you suffered actual damages.

In most cases, lawsuits for Legionnaires’ disease fall under negligence or premises liability theories. Negligence claims require you to show that the other party failed to take reasonable steps to protect you from harm. Premises liability claims require you to show that the other party owned or controlled the property where you got exposed to Legionella and that they failed to keep the property safe.

In addition to proving negligence or premises liability, you must also show that your illness directly stemmed from exposure to Legionella. The incubation period for Legionnaires’ disease is typically two to fourteen days. As such, it may be hard to pinpoint the exact time and place where you got exposed to the bacteria. That is why you should work closely with a seasoned personal injury attorney.

The attorney can help thoroughly assess your case and determine if you have a viable claim. The attorney can also help you gather evidence, negotiate with the other party, and represent you in court if necessary.

If you can prove all the elements of your case, you may be entitled to recover specific damages for medical expenses, pain and suffering, lost wages, and other losses. The total compensation amount you receive will vary with the facts of your case.

Understanding Nevada’s Negligence Law

Nevada follows a modified comparative negligence rule. The rule allows you to recover damages if you are not more than 50% at fault. So, if you get injured in an accident and found to be partially at fault, the compensation will be slashed by the percentage of fault you are assigned.

The state’s modified comparative negligence rule is different from contributory negligence, which is a rule that bars you from recovering damages if the judge or jury finds you at fault for the accident.

You must, however, show that the other party owed you a duty of care. In other words, the defendant had a responsibility to act reasonably and to avoid causing harm to others.

Your Nevada Legionnaires’ disease lawyer can help gather evidence to prove the defendant failed to honor the duty of care. The lawyer can also prepare evidence and arguments to prove the defendant’s breach of duty must have caused your injuries.

Types of Damages to Recover from a Legionnaires’ Disease Lawsuit

The three damages you can recover from a Legionnaires’ disease lawsuit include economic, non-economic, and punitive damages.

Economic damages are the costs associated with your illness, such as medical expenses, lost wages, and property damage. Non-economic damages are the intangible losses you have suffered, like pain and suffering, emotional distress, and loss of enjoyment of life. Punitive damages are designed to punish the defendant for reckless or intentional conduct and discourage such misconducts in the future.

So, how much is a legionnaires’ disease lawsuit worth? The compensation amount you can recover will depend on the particular facts of your case. These facts include the severity of your illness, the length of your hospital stay, and the extent of your injuries.

Medical expenses comprise the cost of hospitalization, doctor’s visits, prescription medications, and other treatments. They may also include the cost of long-term care from the nursing home or home health care.

If you could not work due to your illness, you can recover lost wages in the form of your lost salary and any benefits you would have received, such as paid sick leave or disability insurance. If your home was flooded with contaminated water that put you at risk of the disease, you may be able to recover the cost of repairs.

Pain and suffering are the physical and emotional distress you have experienced due to your illness, like headaches, fatigue, shortness of breath, and anxiety. On the other hand, loss of enjoyment of life is the inability to participate in activities you once enjoyed due to your illness. It can include hobbies, travel, and spending time with family and friends.

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.

Years of Experience: More than 28 years
Nevada Registration Status: Active
Bar & Court Admissions: Nevada State Bar Federal Court of Nevada, 3rd Circuit

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