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Legionnaires’ Disease

Legionnaires’ disease is a lung infection (pneumonia) caused by a bacterium named Legionella pneumophila. The name was coined from the 1976 outbreak at the American Legion Convention in Philadelphia which resulted in 221 cases and 34 deaths. The bacterium is found naturally in water including rivers lakes and streams. Some species of Legionella are also found in soils.

Legionella bacterium can cause two illnesses: Pontiac fever and Legionnaires’ disease. Pontiac fever is a milder form that has flu like symptoms and usually does not require hospitalization and its occurrence is rare.

In contrast, Legionnaire’s disease has multiple symptoms accompanied with pneumonia and can be fatal. It usually affects patients who are immunocompromised (those having a weakened immune system), current and former smokers, and patients over 50 years of age. Males also appear to be more susceptible to contract Legionnaries’ disease than their female counterparts.

In the United States, it is estimated that between 8,000 and 18,000 people are hospitalized annually with Legionnaires’ disease. In 2010, 113 people in Maryland, including 34 in Baltimore, contracted Legionnaires’ disease. However, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports that the prevalence may be higher as many infections are not reported or diagnosed. The occurrence of infection appears to be higher in summer and early fall but can occur at any time during the year.

Signs and Symptoms

The onset of this disease is usually marked by a headache, muscle pain, and general malaise and occurs two to ten days following exposure to the bacterium. Initial symptoms are followed by chills and fever (up to 40°C to 40.5°C or 104°F to 105°F).

Some patients may experience nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. After 2 to 3 days from initial onset, chest pain and dry coughs may occur, and many patients experience difficulty breathing. Most patients will develop pneumonia, and it may affect both lungs and require hospitalization. Confusion, disorientation, loss of memory and hallucination may also occur. Complications of Legionnaires’ disease include respiratory failure, septic shock, acute kidney failure, endocarditis (infection of the inner lining of the heart) and pericarditis (swelling of the membrane around the heart). Recovery may require several weeks and according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), 5 to 30% of all cases result in death. Most healthy patients recover with antibiotic treatment.

Diagnosis and Treatment

To correctly diagnose Legionnaires’ disease, chest x-rays and laboratory tests are required which may include antibody detection in blood or urine and isolation of Legionella bacterium from blood or respiratory secretions. Antibiotics are usually prescribed to treat the infection, most commonly erythromycin and rifampin are prescribed. Recent research has identified a key step in how the bacterium infects human cells. This recent finding may lead to alternate treatments.


The presence of Legionella in environmental samples such as water and soil is not necessarily associated with an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease. The exact mechanism of transmission is not clear. It is currently believed that inhalation of the bacterium through contaminated water aerosols or soil is required. It has also been suggested that choking during drinking, eating or swallowing, which allows fluids to enter the lungs instead of the stomach is another way the bacterium can enter the lungs.

Legionnaires’ disease from contaminated water can be caused by industrial cooling water systems, air conditioning systems, and evaporative coolers. You can also get Legionnaires’ disease infections from showers, humidifiers, and ice makers, and, yes, hot tubs.

There is no evidence to suggest that the disease can be transmitted from person to person. The focus has been placed on reducing the spread of Legionella through building ventilation systems. As the bacterium can survive in warm, stagnant water, it is possible for contaminated air droplets to be transported throughout a building through ventilation systems. Small enough droplets can be inhaled which provides a viable way for the bacteria to enter the lung. Legionella has been identified in hot water tanks, cooling towers, shower heads and whirlpool spas.


Outbreaks are not uncommon and may occur in hospitals, hotels, cruise ships, nursing homes or spas. Most often, ventilation systems or water holding/cooling systems are suspected of transmission.

Methods of preventing the growth of Legionella bacterium include chlorination, heat treatment, and the use of filters. Silver and copper ionisation treatment of water is also effective but is very expensive. In many cases, the person(s) affected by Legionnaires’ disease may have evidence that there is a responsible party and file a lawsuit. A lawsuit was recently filed against Starwood resorts after three travellers contracted Legionnaires’ disease at a hotel in Dubai. One of the travellers died due to the infection. A lawsuit has also been filed against the MGM Resort, ARIA and it’s builder in Las Vegas after six guests contracted Legionnaires’ disease during a stay earlier this summer (2011). Other defendants in Legionnaires’ disease lawsuits have included hospitals, mechanical contractors, motels (Super 8 Motel, Wingate Inn), and cruise ships. Plaintiff’s expert witnesses in Legionnaires’ disease cases have included biochemists pulmonologists, mechanical and environmental engineers, and plumbers.

Hiring a Lawyer

Legionnaire’s disease is often the result negligence – the failure to keep the premises safe from the conditions that could cause Legionnaires disease and other health problems. If you or someone you love may have been exposed to the bacteria that causes Legionnaire’s Disease, your first call, of course, should be to your doctor. But you may also have a lawsuit for your injuries from the disease or the death of a loved one.

Our lawyers handle Legionnaire’s disease lawsuit in Maryland. Contact us online or call 800-553-8082 discuss your potential case. If we believe you have a claim, we will work to ensure that you receive the financial compensation you and your family deserve.

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