Early symptoms of Legionnaires’ disease

legionThere is an outbreak in New York City and its name is Legion for there are many infected and a few dead, so let’s have a look at the early symptoms of Legionnaires’ disease – also known as legionellosis. This condition may be difficult to diagnose at the beginning because the signs can resemble those of other types of pneumonia. The first symptoms tend to appear 2-10 days after exposure to the Legionella bacterium.

Early Legionnaires’ disease symptoms include:

  • Headache.
  • Muscle pain.
  • Chills.
  • 104 F or higher fever.

Other symptoms that may develop by the second or third day of infection are:

  • Cough, possibly with mucus or blood.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Chest pain.
  • Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and other gastrointestinal symptoms.
  • Mental changes such as confusion.

These symptoms are caused by bacteria found in the environment – especially in warm water. A typical infection starts when a person inhales, for example, water droplets sprayed from a hot tub that has not been disinfected. In addition to hot tubs, the Legionella bacterium is often found in cooling towers, hot water tanks, large plumbing systems, swimming pools, physical therapy equipment, water systems in hotels, hospitals, and nursing homes, and decorative fountains. The majority of outbreaks occur in large buildings, though infection from home plumbing systems is possible as well. Legionnaires’ disease is not transmitted through person-to-person contact.

Most healthy people do not develop symptoms after being exposed to Legionella bacteria. The following risk factors put some people are at higher risk, though:

  • Age (being 50 or older).
  • Smoking.
  • Chronic lung disease.
  • A weakened immune system.
  • Drugs that suppress the immune system.

  Even though healthy individuals generally improve after contracting legionellosis, there is also the possibility of taking a turn for the worse and facing the following complications:

  • Respiratory failure.
  • Septic shock.
  • Acute kidney failure.
  • Death.

In order to avoid these potentially life-threatening complications, people should see a doctor if they suspect that they have been exposed to legionella bacteria and/or are experiencing the early symptoms of Legionnaires’ disease. Tests that can help to quickly detect legionellosis include:

  • Blood tests.
  • Chest x-ray.
  • Sputum or lung tissue sample tests.
  • CT scan of the brain.
  • Spinal tap.
  • Urine antigen test.
  • Culture.

Treatment may require a hospital stay. And as far as prevention goes, thorough cleaning and disinfection of water systems, pools, and spas is a must to avert outbreaks. At the personal level, not smoking is the main measure that can be taken to decrease infection risk.

Related Read:

- Early symptoms of pneumonia