Legionnaires’ Disease Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment

What are the Symptoms of Legionnaires’ Disease

Legionnaires’ disease usually begins with flu-like symptoms similar to other types of bacterial pneumonia. These include:

Within two or three days, the illness will have fully set in and patients typically experience more severe cough and difficulty breathing. This may be accompanied by nausea, diarrhea, chills and confusion.

Diagnosing Legionnaires’ Disease

Similar to diagnosis for other types of pneumonia, a doctor may start with a physical exam and getting a detailed history of possible exposure, such as recent travel or hot tub use. If they suspect pneumonia, the next steps include a chest X-ray and blood tests. To diagnose Legionnaires’ disease among other types of pneumonia, your doctor may order urine tests and a sputum culture to determine the presence of the Legionella bacteria.

How Legionnaires’ Disease Is Treated

Legionnaires' disease is a bacterial infection most commonly treated with antibiotics. Some people will get very sick and will require hospitalization. The sooner treatment begins the less likely you are to develop serious complications such as respiratory failure, septic shock or kidney failure. Legionnaires’ disease can be fatal, so it is important to get prompt medical attention.

Your doctor may determine that you have contracted a less severe version of the same disease, called Pontiac fever. This milder condition will clear up on its own without treatment and cause no lingering problems.

Preventing Legionnaires’ Disease

There is no vaccine to prevent Legionnaires’ disease. The best way to guard against the disease is for business and residential owners and managers to make sure their buildings’ water systems are well maintained. It is a good practice to avoid exposure to water sources such as decorative fountains and hot tubs if you are unsure how well they are maintained.

The CDC has developed a toolkit that can aid building owners and managers with ways to reduce their buildings’ risk for growing and spreading Legionella.

Reviewed and approved by the American Lung Association Scientific and Medical Editorial Review Panel.

Page last updated: April 10, 2020

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