Ten Facts About Legionella

Legionella bacteria are most commonly associated with causing legionellosis, better known as Legionnaires’ disease, a potentially serious lung infection caused by breathing in contaminated water droplets.

Legionella bacteria can be either rod or coccoid shaped and there are at least 50 known species.

Read on for 10 facts about Legionella, what symptoms you can expect if you’re suffering from Legionnaires’ disease and what you can do to prevent it.


1. Legionnaires’ disease gets its name from an outbreak in 1976 when attendees at an American Legion convention became ill with pneumonia.


2. The Legionella bacteria is usually found in ponds, rivers and lakes and are usually in numbers so low that they are generally considered harmless.


3. However, if the bacteria finds its way into air conditioning systems, condensers or spas then they can multiply rapidly.  This is particularly problematic for hotels, hospitals and office blocks.


4. Legionella bacteria ideally need a water temperature of between 20-45C to grow and contaminants such as rust and limescale can exacerbate reproductive rate.


5. In the UK cases of Legionnaires’ disease are rare, with just 284 confirmed cases reported in 2013, and around a third of these cases resulting from being exposed to the bacteria abroad.


6. Everyone can be at risk of catching an infection but if you are over 50, have smoked heavily or have an underlying medical condition or weakened immune system then you may be more susceptible.


7. If you’re diagnosed with a legionellosis infection then your doctor must inform the local health authority in case it can be traced back to an outbreak.


8. Common symptoms of Legionnaires’ disease usually take about a week to start showing after being infected and can consist of headaches, muscle pain, fever, chills, coughing and shortness of breath.


9. Treatment for an infection usually consists of a course of anti-biotics, either through tablets or a drip, for 1-3 weeks with 9 out of 10 people making a full recovery.


10. Legionnaires’ disease isn’t infectious, so you can't spread it to another person.  It can be prevented by making sure that any systems carrying water supplies meet maintenance and health and safety regulations to stop the bacteria building up.


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Image: CDC

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