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Legionnaires’ Disease

Introduction

Legionnaires’ disease is an infection spread through inhalation of droplets/aerosols through contaminated artificial water systems such as air conditioning units, cooling towers, whirlpool spas, and shower units. It can cause a severe form of pneumonia that can be life threatening.

Recommendations for Travellers

The risk of infection is greatest in those with risk factors staying in poorly maintained accommodation.

Risk factors:

  • age over 50 years
  • current or previous smokers
  • excess alcohol consumption
  • chronic heart, lung, kidney or liver disease
  • cancer
  • suppressed immune system due to medication or disease.

Preventive Measures

Prior to travel you should check if there are any recent known outbreaks at your destination. News items on the individual country pages of fitfortravel will detail any recent outbreaks. A surveillance system for infection exists in Europe. Accommodation where the  infection has been reported is published online and can be accessed on the ECDC website Icon Newwindow

  • Flushing through showers with hot water, before entering the shower, in hotels or institutions when they have not been used recently may help.
  • Seek medical advice promptly if any symptoms of infection develop, including up to 2 weeks after travel.

There is no vaccine to protect against Legionnaires’ disease.

Overview of the Disease

Legionella disease is caused by legionella bacteria, found worldwide in fresh water environments, both natural and man-made, and in damp soil, compost and mud.

Infection occurs when infected droplets/aerosols are inhaled.  These aerosols are often generated in contaminated artificial water systems such as air conditioning units, cooling towers, whirlpool spas, fountains and shower units.

Infection is not spread person to person.

The Illness

Between 2 and 10 days after becoming infected flu-like symptoms (fever, headache, loss of appetite, sore muscles, tiredness) occur and may be accompanied by confusion. Cough, shortness of breath and pains in the chest occur as pneumonia develops.

Anyone can catch Legionnaires’ disease, but it is more common and severe in those with risk factors (as above).

Treatment

Legionnaires’ Disease needs prompt treatment with antibiotics. Antibiotic treatment usually lasts 1 to 3 weeks.

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