A relatively rare form of pneumonia, legionnaires disease is caused by the bacterium Legionella pneumophilia. In addition to severe respiratory problems, the bacteria can cause diarrhea, mental confusion and the deterioration in function of both the liver and kidney. Two to ten days after initial exposure to legionnaires the infected individual will suffer with muscle aches and pains followed by fever, shortness of breath and a cough.
Legionnaires disease diagnosis is confirmed by chest x-ray and laboratory tests on a sputum sample. Once confirmed treatment with antibiotics for example Erythromycin should begin immediately. The legionella bacteria live in soil and shallow stationary water. The infection is contracted by inhaling infected water, particularly water aerosol from heating and air conditioning units.
Even with antibiotic treatment the disease has a high fatality rate. Therefore, chlorination and regular cleaning and maintaining of such units is essential to prevent the growth of the legionella bacteria. There is no evidence that the disease is contagious.
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