by Ross Walker

Following a second death this year from Legionnaires’ Disease, I thought I should put this in some perspective to prevent the potential panic that may grip the public from this news.

It may come as a surprise to most of you that Legionnaires’ Disease is around the third or fourth most common cause of community or even hospital acquired pneumonia in developed countries.

The Legionella Pneumonia bacteria is a bacteria commonly found in the soil, and when it affects an otherwise healthy person, it causes a typical, non-specific pneumonia that recovers with standard, broad spectrum antibiotics.

Legionnaires’ Disease was first discovered in 1976 following an outbreak of pneumonia at the American Legion Convention.

Unlike most pneumonias, Legionnaire’s Disease may also cause severe gastrointestinal symptoms, kidney failure, blood disorders and neurologic manifestations, but this is typically in people with compromised immune systems such as the elderly, or in people with chronic diseases.

The major problem with these outbreaks is that the bacteria can become very concentrated in air conditioning systems or water towers and if someone with a ‘dicky’ immune system or, for example, older smokers are exposed, then it is not difficult for the affected person to develop the more severe version of Legionnaires’ Disease, with up to a 50% death rate.

If picked up early and treated, the most likely outcome is full recovery for healthier populations, but, if you are in the older or sicker category, it is vital you try to avoid exposure to areas of known outbreaks and seek help very early if you have any respiratory symptoms.

As with all medical conditions, the earlier the problem is diagnosed and treated, the better the outcome.