The symptoms of Legionnaires’ disease are similar to lung infections like pneumonia. You may experience a headache, fever, shortness of breath, diarrhea, or muscle aches. The disease spreads through water from hot tubs, spa pools, showers, taps, and humidifiers. You may catch it from inhaling contaminated water droplets.
Legionnaires’ disease currently has no vaccine. Constructing and maintaining water management systems can help prevent the disease. A knowledgeable personal injury lawyer can help you recover compensation if you contracted Legionnaires’ disease after staying in a hotel or any other establishment infested with Legionella bacteria.
What Is Legionnaires’ Disease?
The Legionnaires’ disease is a lung infection caused by Legionella, a bacterium found in water. This disease presents itself as a severe type of pneumonia. Like pneumonia, patients tend to have inflamed lungs as the disease progresses.
Over the years, researchers have linked legionella bacterium to inadequately maintained artificial water systems. Its concentration in a shared water source determines the likelihood of people contracting Legionnaires’ disease. Age and underlying medical conditions can also affect the rate at which the bacterium impacts the lungs.
Many people contract the disease from breathing in bacteria mixed with soil or water. Some catch it due to age, weakened immune systems, and tobacco use.
Once it infects the lungs, the bacterium results in a mild ailment (Pontiac fever) that presents as flu. In most cases, the fever will subside without any medical intervention. However, legionellosis symptoms are life-threatening if you fail to seek treatment.
Causes and Common Infection Sources
Freshwater environments, such as rivers and lakes, are the primary habitat for legionella bacteria. Artificial water systems can also host the bacterium if they are inadequately maintained.
Artificial water systems likely to contain Legionella bacteria include water heaters and tanks, sink faucets, and shower heads. Others include hot tubs, cooling towers, water features (including fountains), and plumbing systems.
People at Higher Risk
Legionnaires’ disease usually attacks people with weakened immune systems and underlying lung infections or conditions. As such, you are likely to see smokers (former and current), people with immune system ailments, and people with severe lung infections get infected with this disease. Life-threatening diseases like cancer and underlying conditions, such as liver failure, kidney failure, and diabetes, also increase the risk for Legionnaires’ disease.
How Legionnaires’ Disease Spreads
Legionnaires’ disease spreads through tiny water droplets in artificial water systems. You can get exposed to the disease when you inhale contaminated water droplets.
Offices, hotels, hospitals, and long-term care facilities are common places to catch the ailment. Once the legionella bacteria get into contact with water supply systems installed in these facilities, users are at risk of the disease.
Legionella can grow in humidifiers, taps, showers, hot tubs, spa pools, and water pipes. Any contact with these devices can expose you to the disease. You cannot, however, contract the disease from consuming water contaminated with the bacterium. It’s also impossible to contract it from other infected people.
Legionnaires’ disease mainly spreads when contaminated water droplets physically contact the lungs. It can also get into the lungs when you breathe in tiny, contaminated soil particles.
Signs and Symptoms of Legionnaires’ Disease
The incubation period for legionnaires disease is two to ten days. The period starts when you get infected with Legionnaires’ disease after exposure to the Legionella bacteria. The symptoms may include muscle aches and a headache. You may also develop a fever, which may go away on its own or after treatment.
Later on, as the disease progresses, you may experience chest pain and shortness of breath. Coughing (characterized by mucus or blood) is also a common symptom at this period. Other symptoms include confusion, diarrhea, vomiting, and nausea.
Legionnaires’ disease also infects wounds. It may also spread to the heart if you fail to seek treatment. Milder symptoms of this disease are easy to ignore. You may also mistake them for flu, food contamination, or fatigue. A medical diagnosis can help determine whether you got exposed to legionella bacteria.
Once you spot these symptoms, notify your medical provider. Your physician can help identify the source of the disease, document it, and recommend appropriate treatment. You can then use the documentation to hold the establishment that caused the disease liable for the resulting losses.
Medical treatment can prevent life-threatening complications associated with this disease, including acute kidney failure, septic shock, and respiratory failure. It helps slow the progression of the ailment to other body organs.
Legionnaires’ disease can impair the kidney, making it hard for this organ to function effectively. An impaired kidney, for instance, cannot filter waste from the blood. As a result, alarming levels of waste and toxic fluid get retained in the body.
When the disease spreads to the heart, it can affect blood circulation to vital organs. The heart may try to increase the pumped blood volume to solve this problem. However, the additional workload on the cardiac muscles may weaken them and cause blood pressure to drop to dangerously low levels.
If the inflammation in the lungs persists, the lungs may no longer take in adequate oxygen or expel carbon dioxide. As a result, the patient may suffer respiratory failure.
Treatment for Legionnaires’ Disease
Once a doctor diagnoses you with Legionnaires’ disease, the doctor will administer treatment. The treatment will involve injecting antibiotics into the veins. It may also involve placing tubes in the nose attached to an oxygen machine to aid breathing.
Your doctor will prescribe oral antibiotics to take when you get discharged. The dosage for the tablets lasts between one and three weeks. You may need time to resume your normal activities even after recovering.
Currently, no vaccine can help keep you from contracting Legionnaires’ disease. Luckily, it is possible to reduce the risk for this ailment with some preventive measures.
Public health officials advise structural engineers to consider Legionella bacterial growth when designing buildings. They incentivize long-term care facilities and health departments to maintain water management systems.
One of the primary areas in the prevention of Legionnaires’ disease is water management systems. They may expose users to legionella bacteria if not regularly updated or maintained. Some water management systems that can help prevent the bacteria from spreading include:
A hands-free faucet helps prevent the growth of legionella bacteria by reducing the touchpoints. It has a motion sensor that automatically allows water to flow when you place your hands underneath. The device can also switch off when you are done washing your hands.
An auto-drain shower automatically drains any stagnant water between the shower spray and valve. When stagnant water occupies the shower head, it may be a breeding ground for legionella bacteria.
Auto-drain showers reduce the risk of disease-causing bacteria in water systems. Installing them in long-term care facilities, hospitals, and hotels can help prevent the spread of this disease. They also come with a retrofit kit that you can use with the shower hose, hand sprayer, and a fixed shower head.
Maintenance Practices that Can Prevent Legionnaires’ Disease
Facility administrators or managers must observe certain maintenance practices when handling public water systems. These practices include disinfecting and cleaning the systems. Doing this will help reduce the growth of legionella bacteria.
They should use biocides when disinfecting, cleaning, or maintaining cooling towers. Biocides can kill bacteria on faucets, shower heads, hot tubs, and other water fixtures.
An example of a biocide is chlorine, which can help contain disease-causing pathogens in pools. It forms part of the substances that ensure safety and prevent swimming pool accidents/illnesses.
Drift eliminators can help reduce the amount of aerosols released from a cooling tower. As a result, they prevent the cooling tower from producing contaminated aerosols. Other effective preventive measures include:
- Keeping both cold and hot water fixtures clean
- Maintaining temperatures above 122 degrees Fahrenheit (50 degrees Celsius) in hot tubs
- Regularly flushing unused faucets to reduce water stagnation
Pursuing a Legionnaires’ Disease Compensation Claim
If you or your loved one contracted Legionnaires’ disease due to someone else’s negligence, you can claim compensation from the negligent party. In such a case, you may argue that you or your loved one got the disease due to inadequately maintained water systems.
Whether it is a hotel or a long-term care facility, the facility’s administrators should exercise a duty of care towards you. Duty of care implies that the administrators must ensure that everything in the building works as intended and is properly maintained.
Hiring a personal injury lawyer is your best chance of obtaining compensation from a liable facility administrator. A lawyer can examine the details of your case to determine whether you have solid grounds for a personal injury claim. If so, the lawyer can compile evidence and prepare arguments to show how the facility’s administrators breached their duty of care and caused you to contract the disease. You will then receive compensation through an insurance settlement or court trial process.
Chicago personal injury and workers’ compensation attorney Howard Ankin has a passion for justice and a relentless commitment to defending injured victims throughout the Chicagoland area. With decades of experience achieving justice on behalf of the people of Chicago, Howard has earned a reputation as a proven leader in and out of the courtroom. Respected by peers and clients alike, Howard’s multifaceted approach to the law and empathetic nature have secured him a spot as an influential figure in the Illinois legal system.