The Student
Legionnaires’ disease – ways to prevent and treat the illness
by Rosie Byrne, 21/11/19

Whilst at university, it is important to know about other illnesses that could be less common. Legionnaires’ disease is a lung infection that is carried through water containing legionella bacteria. The chances of catching it are very small due to the regulations regarding testing and water temperatures that landlords and accommodation services are supposed to follow, but nevertheless, it is important to be aware of it and carry out necessary precautions.

Legionella is the bacteria that causes both Legionnaires’ disease and pontiac fever, both illnesses that can feel like a flu initially. Legionnaires’ disease is important to be aware of because it causes pneumonia, and therefore is occasionally fatal if not treated quickly; regardless, both are very uncommon.

This bacteria is usually transmitted through water distribution systems, as the bacteria can multiply if the water is stagnant. It can be killed by temperatures of over 60°C, but if it travels through the system then it can cause disease through inhaling infected water droplets. You can prevent this by turning on a shower and leaving it to run for a minute or so before you step in, and making sure that your house, flat or place of work has had a recent check and that your landlord or employer is complying with health and safety law. You should be notified of this when you sign a tenancy agreement or lease in a residential property, for example. It is also very uncommon to catch it at home, and will be more likely at larger institutions, for example if you take a shower at a hotel or gym. Nonetheless, it is worth running taps or showers for a few seconds before using to reduce your risk of inhaling any contaminated droplets. It is also worth being aware that you cannot catch Legionnaires’ disease from drinking contaminated water, as it is a respiratory disease – it is also not contagious and so cannot be transmitted between individuals.

You can be more at risk of Legionnaires’ disease if you are on medication that makes you immunosuppressed and therefore more vulnerable to infection – this is usually as a result of a chronic illness and so you will be aware of this if you are affected. You can also be more susceptible if you suffer from asthma or other breathing problems, dependency on alcohol or drugs, or have diabetes. For more information always seek the advice of your doctor.

Symptoms of Legionnaires’ Disease include a dry cough, a fever (such as feeling hot and shivery or having a high temperature) breathlessness and severe chest pain.

These can be symptoms of Legionnaires’ disease but are not specific to the condition and can also be associated with other illnesses. If you have symptoms and are concerned it could be Legionnaires’, you should seek immediate medical attention and ring either 111 for medical advice or see your doctor as soon as possible.

Image Credit: Public Domain Pictures