What is Legionnaires’ disease and how can I protect myself?

Last week, the New York State Department of Health announced that it was investigating eight possible cases of Legionnaires’ disease happened from June to September at the Amsterdam Nursing Home in the Morningside Heights neighborhood of Manhattan. Four out of eight people who may have been infected have died. Earlier this month, city officials also find evidence bacteria that cause Legionnaires’ at the Jacob Riis House in Manhattan’s East Village.

Health departments in the United States report nearly 10,000 cases of Legionnaires’ disease each year, but some experts say the disease remains under-reported because it can be difficult to distinguish from other lung infections. . Nearly one in 10 people with Legionnaires’ disease die from complications of the disease, According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Complications can include respiratory failure, inflammation of the heart, and widespread muscle damage, all of which are more likely to occur in people who are ill enough to be hospitalized.

Here’s what you should know about spotting symptoms, how to treat it, and protect yourself.

Legionnaires’ is caused by an infection with Legionella bacteria, which is normally present in water but has the potential to become dangerous when it is allowed to multiply in large numbers. This bacteria is common in freshwater sources such as lakes and streams, but it often becomes a health concern only in man-made water systems, which provide a warm enough environment for the bacteria to grow and spread. lan.

People can become infected if they breathe in droplets containing Legionella while showering, using a hot tub, or simply going about their lives in a building with a large hot tub, Cooling tower or complex plumbing, such as a hotel, hospital, long-term care facility, office building, or school, says Dr. Elliott Dasenbrook, a respiratory illness specialist at the Cleveland Clinic. Some studies have also suggestions that transportation workers get Legionnaires’ disease twice as often as non-transporters, possibly because bacteria can multiply in vehicle windshield wiper fluid tank if it is diluted with plain water. Drivers can breathe in contaminated fog when it is sprayed onto the windshield.

Dr Dasenbrook said: ‘The bacterial mist can be very small, so you can’t really see or feel it when you breathe. Most people don’t get sick even when they’re exposed to the bacteria, he added; The elderly and those with pre-existing medical conditions are most susceptible to infection.

If you are infected, symptoms usually appear 2 to 14 days after exposure. You may have a fever of 104 degrees or more, as well as chills, cough, headache or overall weakness and fatigue. Unlike other lung infections, people with Legionnaires’ disease may have additional gastrointestinal symptoms, such as nausea or diarrhea, says Dr Dasenbrook. The disease worsened during the first week after the development of symptoms and many patients were hospitalized.

Sometimes Legionella bacteria can cause a less serious illness called Pontiac fever, in which symptoms are limited to fever and body aches. These cases usually require no treatment and resolve on their own in less than a week CDC.

Dr Dasenbrook said Legionella infections are most common in the summer and early fall months, when people living in tall buildings tend to use more air conditioning, which requires the use of cooling towers. building. Legionnaires infection rates are highest among older, Black, and low-income individuals, who are more likely to live in poorly maintained homes with more widespread Legionella growth. (Central air in private homes and window air conditioning units, as well as automotive equipment, do not use water to cool the air, so they generally do not carry the risk of developing Legionella.) Patients almost never pass the bacteria on to others, says Dr. Dasenbrook, although researchers have documented some rare exception.

You’re more likely to get infections if you’re over 50, smoke, or have another long-term respiratory condition, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or emphysema. People with weakened immune systems – due to organ transplants, cancer, diabetes or HIV – and those who have recently stayed in hotels, hospitals or nursing homes may also be at increased risk. Legionnaires.

“That’s why every year you hear about a few outbreaks in such nursing homes or long-term care facilities,” says Dr Dasenbrook. “Often the patients have all the different risk factors.”

If you have the above symptoms and notice any shortness of breath, contact a healthcare professional, Dr. Dasenbrook says. If you can monitor your blood oxygen levels using pulse oximeter and your oxygen levels start to drop below 95 percent, which is another reason to be evaluated.

Seek medical attention if you are experiencing severe gastrointestinal symptoms in addition to cough and fever. You should talk to your doctor before bouts of diarrhea or vomiting start to dehydrate you, says Dr. Dasenbrook. Be sure to mention if you’ve spent any nights away from home – at a hotel or in the hospital – in the past two weeks, as this can help get your doctor home in the event of a likely Legionnaires ‘.

Your doctor will most likely order a chest X-ray to determine if you have a lung infection. People who are so sick that they need to go to the emergency room may also have blood and urine tests to determine the cause of the infection. The combination of these tests with the patient’s travel history and symptoms is often what is needed to distinguish between Legionnaires’ disease and other types of infection.

Most cases require antibiotic treatment for five to 14 days, depending on the severity of the disease and the patient’s physical health. Even healthy people often need hospital care, and some people may need extra oxygen through a tube or mask. Patients may experience fatigue and muscle aches for several months after returning home.

You can reduce your risk of Legionnaires’ disease at home by regularly deep cleaning showers, faucets, hot tubs, and humidifiers. There are no current guidelines for how often individual households need to do this, but if you think you might be at risk, killing Legionella bacteria is pretty easy: For the shower or faucet yours, start by removing the shower head or the end of the faucet contains a mesh screen disk. Brush off limescale and other deposits. Then soak the cloth in boiling water or a chemical solution to help kill the bacteria. Because hot tubuse chemicals specifically designed for disinfection and your humidifier, use diluted bleach or hydrogen peroxide solution. For your car, CDC recommends undiluted windshield cleaning fluid, contains a mixture of antifreeze, solvents and detergents unsuitable for bacterial growth.

Most states require managers of large buildings that use cooling towers and water tanks to register with the state. Managers also need to regularly check for Legionella, disinfect cooling towers within 24 hours if they have elevated bacterial levels, and notify local and public health departments. In New York, these inspections must be conducted more frequently every 90 days.

If the infection is traced to a specific facility, as with recent cases in New York, water flows are often restricted to protect residents. Affected people may have to switch to bottled or boiled water for drinking and bathing until the building can be completely disinfected.

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