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Disease Focus: Legionella

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Legionella – A Brief

By Nicole Kraatz

Legionella, also known as Legionnaires' disease, is a severe form of pneumonia caused by the bacteria Legionella pneumophila. This disease was first discovered at a hotel in Philadelphia in 1976. The hotel was hosting a convention for the Pennsylvania American Legion when approximately 200 of it’s attendees developed pneumonia, eventually resulting in a number of fatalities. After viewing laboratory results of the lung tissue, the bacterium was found and later named Legionella pneumophila.

In order to contract Legionella, a person has to come in contact with water contaminated by the Legionnaires' disease bacteria. Inhaling aerosolized forms of the Legionnaires' disease bacteria can also cause illness to occur. The time of infection to the onset of symptoms for those infected with Legionella takes 2-10 days. Symptoms are that of standard pneumonia illnesses, such as cough, high fever, muscle aches, headaches and shortness of breath. Those that are healthy generally do not get sick after exposure to the bacteria. However, there are populations more at risk of contracting the disease than others. Those populations include people over age 50, current or former smokers, those with chronic lung diseases as well as those with weak immune systems.

To prevent further complications after being diagnosed with Legionella, those infected must begin treatment with antibiotics such as azithromycin, erythromycin, and clarithromycin. This ensures successful recovery for patients. Because Legionella is a waterborne disease, prevention is mainly centered around maintenance of water systems. Currently, there are no vaccines for Legionella and it is imperative for those at risk to stay away from high risk exposures such as hot tubs, decorative fountains or other stagnate bodies of water.

Legionella Cases in St. Joseph’s Hospital

By Jason Zheng

St. Joseph’s Hospital in Syracuse, New York confirmed with additional water testing that presence of Legionella bacteria is present at the facility. The results were released to the public, showing that the bacteria was found in two patient sinks and one ice machine at the hospital. The test was ordered by the New York State Department of Health after three patients were diagnosed with Legionnaire’s pneumonia in late September and early October of 2015.

United States Senator Charles Schumer stated that the cases of Legionnaires’ disease in Syracuse hospital requires the action of federal government requiring hospitals and other large buildings to regularly test their water supplies for the disease. Legionnaires' is a severe form of pneumonia which can be deadly for elderly people with lung disease and weakened immune systems. The bacteria can be found in air conditioning cooling towers as well as drinking water supplies.

Recently, the state of New York requires all building owners to register their cooling towers with the state and have them regularly rested for Legionella bacteria.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), up to 18,000 people are hospitalized for the disease in the U.S. each year. Schumer says that this is preventable, however it comes down to adjust current health regulations. He clearly blames the CDC for this incident because the agency did not take actions even when there was active cases present in the U.S.

Senator Schumer wants the federal government to devote $250 million for the CDC to conduct more research on Legionnaires’ and to create a national testing standards for the bacteria. He urges Senate to include this in the Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies’ appropriation bill $500 million for this program. To fulfil this Schumer has sent out letters to Senate Appropriators (Chairman Blunt and Ranking Member Murray) and the CDC (Dr. Tom Frieden). These letters are made available online and can be found here.

Senator Schumer also recommends that health protocols should be compared nationwide among all states, that way better regulations can be enacted to provide more efficient treatments.

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