Legionella was first discovered at the Bellevue Stratford Hotel in Philadelphia during July of 1976. The US Bicentennial Convention of the American Legion was meeting. More than 4000 WWII veterans, including friends and family were congregating to be part of the 58th American Legion’s Convention. Of those thousands of people attending the convention, around 600 were staying at the hotel. The second day of the convention some of the participants began falling ill. The symptoms included fever, coughing and difficulty breathing. All these symptoms could very possible be thought of as the common flu. A few days later one of the veterans from the convention died. As the next few days pass by, more and more of the Legionnaires die. By the end of the epidemic a total of 221 people had been infected and 34 had died. Not until January 18, 1977 did they finally come to know of what was killing these people but they have never found the source of the disease for this case.
The term Legionellosis is used to describe the illness caused by any American Legion Member Honors Legionnaires Fallenspecies of Legionella. From May 1973 to October of 1978 only 500 Legionellosis cases were reported. That’s not to say there were only 500 cases total but a majority of the cases are never reported or diagnosed correctly. There is still much that is not known about Legionnaires’ disease. People continue to die from it and the media fails to make news of it unless there is a massive outbreak.
The cause of Legionnaires’ disease can be traced to a family of bacteria called Legionella which have 31 known species and more than 50 serogroups. Legionella pneumophila serogroup 1 is the specific bacterium that causes Legionnaires’ disease and has been recovered from the lung tissues of Legionnaires’ disease patients. Legionella are thought to cause another illness, called Pontiac fever, after its appearance in Pontiac, Michigan in 1968. Pontiac fever is a mild, non-pneumonic non-fatal illness which usually lasts around three days.
Many researchers do not suggest routine testing of Legionella since it is commonly found just about everywhere regardless of what you do. However, you are able to control the growth and the chances of the bacteria multiplying to a concentration that can be dangerous. Testing, while not mandatory, should be based on system use and environmental considerations, as well as the population living in and around the area. People with suppressed immune systems are more susceptible to become ill or die from an exposure to Legionella bacteria. Hospitals, nursing homes and senior living facilities are examples of common cases because these facilities have a high percentage of people with suppressed immune systems.
How Legionella Affects Humans
When Legionella enter the body, the body’s white blood cells begin to surround the bacteria, trying to fight it. Legionella however, will feed on the white blood cells and actually use it to multiply. The body will then begin to respond by raising its temperature to fight the invader. On average, the temperature with a Legionella infection will be around 104° to 105°F, which ironically is optimum temperature for the bacteria to breed. The body, with its last attempt, will try to contain the bacteria by the use of antibodies. If the body’s immune system is strong enough it will be successful at fending off the attack and thwarting Legionnaires’ disease and will likely just feel sick for a few days. The unlucky few who have weakened immune systems, caused by: organ transplants, smoking, chemotherapy, old age, as well as previous health conditions; are more likely to be at risk for the disease.
Once a person has come in contact with the bacteria, within two to ten days they will begin to show symptoms similar to that of the common cold or flu. This is reason the disease is so often misdiagnosed or in most cases people will tend to ignore the symptoms and expect their body to just get over it. By the time the symptoms have become severe, the victim is usually unable to go to the doctor without the help of someone else. Actual testing for Legionella itself can be time consuming. It is common for the doctor to misdiagnose the symptoms as pneumonia, medicate the patient, and then allow them to leave. They will likely be back within a few days as symptoms get worse. If the bacteria concentration is high, the patient will possibly die if the diagnosis of Legionella is not caught soon enough. Even if the doctor is able to diagnose Legionella, it may already be too late. That is why it is so important to take the necessary precautions to prevent the risk of Legionella getting to dangerous concentrations. The actual concentration that is considered dangerous has no set amount. The only way of protecting yourself is by following the guidelines of controlling Legionnaires’ disease. Having the proper plumbing set up can an effective way of protecting yourself against these deadly bacteria.
The effect that Legionella has on the lungs is deadly. The bacteria feed and multiply exponentially causing the lungs to fill up. The result, if not diagnosed correctly, could be a death similar to that of drowning