Legionnaires Disease | FAQ
Can Legionnaires’ disease be prevented?
Legionnaires’ disease is considered an environmental disease because its causative agent (Legionella) is transmitted from an environmental source (water) to a person — in contrast with communicable diseases, such as AIDS, which are transmitted from person to person.
Although it is possible to contract the illness from Legionella growing in home plumbing systems, most cases have been traced to plumbing systems and cooling towers in large buildings. This may be because larger piping networks are generally more conducive to Legionella growth. Also, the air conditioning systems for large buildings often include cooling towers, which contain a pool of warm water in which Legionella can flourish. Whirlpool spas are also a major source of Legionnaires’ disease.
A two-fold strategy is needed to reduce the incidence and death rate of Legionnaires’ disease:
a. Building owners must manage plumbing systems, cooling towers, whirlpool spas, decorative fountains, and other water systems to minimize the growth and transmission of Legionella bacteria.
b. Healthcare professionals must test pneumonia patients for Legionella, use antibiotic treatment, and report LD cases according to health authority recommendations.
Although quickly diagnosing and properly treating Legionnaires’ disease per “b” is crucial, it is far more desirable to prevent a case of Legionnaires’ disease altogether — by minimizing Legionella bacteria in water systems. To rely strictly on diagnosis and treatment is risky, and history is filled with evidence that it is not a successful strategy. And it’s no surprise. Consider everything that has to go right:
- A person who contracts Legionnaires’ disease must see a physician right away…the longer they wait, the less likely treatment will be successful.
- The physician must suspect the disease and order the appropriate lab tests.
- The lab test must be sensitive enough to detect Legionella
- The right antibiotics must be prescribed.
- And, even then, not all patients overcome the infection, and many who do suffer long-term effects.
People who have survived Legionnaires’ disease or have lost loved ones to it are especially passionate about getting the word out that Legionella needs to be minimized in building water systems.
Professionals involved with Legionella used to debate whether it’s more important to test patients for Legionella or manage building water systems to minimize the bacteria, but the debate is over. The scientific community worldwide now agrees that the key to preventing Legionella infections is to develop and implement a comprehensive water management program for minimizing Legionella bacteria in building water systems.