Legionnaires disease illustration.jpg

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention created this illustration to show how the Legionella bacteria, which causes Legionnaires' disease can enter a person's body.

The recent outbreak of Legionnaires' disease at the Sheraton Atlanta hotel has put the disease in the spotlight as new probable cases continue to emerge. 

Anyone who visited the hotel between June 12 and July 15 is asked to fill out a survey available at bit.ly/2K6SzW8. People who stayed at the hospital during that time period are also asked to seek immediate medical attention if they begin to experience fever, chills, cough and shortness of breath.

As of Tuesday, there were 11 confirmed cases and 55 probable cases of the disease, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health.

But what is Legionnaires' disease?

"Legionnaires’ disease is a very serious type of pneumonia (lung infection) caused by Legionella bacteria," the Department of Public Health said in a statement this week.

Here are some facts to know about where Legionnaires' disease is, what risks it poses, how to tell if you have it and how to treat it.

Where can it come from?

There are a number of places where the The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the Legionella bacteria which causes Legionnaires' disease can grow.

These places include: showerheads and sink faucets; cooling towers; hot tubs that aren’t drained after each use; decorative fountains and water features; hot water tanks and heaters; and large plumbing systems.

Health officials said the Legionella bacteria can particularly thrive and spread in warm water.

Mostly, the disease is spread when people breathe in water droplets — such as mists, vapors or steams — that contain the Legionella bacteria, but the CDC said that's not the only way it can spread.

"Less commonly, people can get sick by aspiration of drinking water containing Legionella," the federal health agency said on its website. "This happens when water accidentally goes into the lungs while drinking. People at increased risk of aspiration include those with swallowing difficulties."

The CDC said the disease is generally not spread from one person to another though.

Who is at risk of getting Legionnaires' disease?

There is a higher risk of getting the disease from the bacteria among:

• People over 50

• People who currently or previously smoked

• People who have a chronic lung disease such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or emphysema

• People who have cancer

• People who have diabetes

• People who have kidney or lung failure

• People with weak immune systems, or who are taking drugs that weaken their immune system

• People who are undergoing chemotherapy

• People who recently had a transplant operation

What are the symptoms of Legionnaires' disease?

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said there are several symptoms that can indicate a person has the disease.

These symptoms include but are not limited to: cough, shortness of breath, fever, muscle aches and headaches

"Legionnaires’ disease can also be associated with other symptoms such as diarrhea, nausea, and confusion," according to the CDC's website. "Symptoms usually begin two to 10 days after being exposed to the bacteria, but it can take longer so people should watch for symptoms for about two weeks after exposure."

If a person develops pneumonia symptoms, health officials say he or she is advised to visit their doctor immediately and report whether they have recently been in a hot tub, spent any nights away from home or were in a hospital within the last two weeks.

How is it diagnosed?

The CDC says chest x-rays, urine tests and lab tests on phlegm or lung washing are often used to determine if a person has the disease.

What are the health threats posed by Legionnaires' disease?

There are serious concerns about the effects of Legionnaires disease, which can include lung failure or death.

"About 1 out of every 10 people who gets sick with Legionnaires’ disease will die due to complications from their illness," the CDC said on its website. "For those who get Legionnaires’ disease during a stay in a healthcare facility, about 1 out of every 4 will die."

The CDC says treatments for the disease require the use of antibiotics which can usually successfully treat the disease.

The CDC also said that while healthy people can recover from the disease, they often have to visit a hospital as part of their treatment.

Legionnaires' is more common than you may think

It may not be a commonly known disease, but Legionnaires' is not necessarily rare. There were 189 reported cases of the disease last year, which was up from 172 cases in 2017, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health.

And there's been a scare of the disease in Gwinnett County in recent years as well.

In November 2017, the J.M Tull-Gwinnett Family YMCA in Lawrenceville closed its pool, hot tubs, sauna, steam room and shower areas for a while because of reports of people who used the facilities showed signs of possibly having Legionnaires' disease.

How to prevent the Legionella bacteria from forming

The CDC recommends hot tub owners regularly clean their tubs using the manufacturers instructions. It also recommends building owners implement a water management program to reduce the spread of the bacteria.

The Georgia Department of Public Health also recommends people who own hot tubs or whirlpools regularly measure and maintain safe disinfection levels.

Georgia health officials also have several recommendations for people use humidifiers or respiratory equipment: use only water that is sterile and/or distilled; change out the water every time the device is used; clean the humidifier once every three days; regularly change out the filters; and following the cleaning recommendations provided by the manufacturer.

Washing hands with warm, soapy water is also recommended after handling gardening soils, potting mixes, and mulches since the bacteria that causes Legionnaires' disease can also be found in those materials.

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I'm a Crawford Long baby who grew up in Marietta and eventually wandered to the University of Southern Mississippi for college. Earned a BA in journalism (double minor in political science and history). Previously worked in Florida and Clayton County.

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