What Can Be Done to Help Prevent Legionnaires’ Disease Outbreaks?

Posted on June 8, 2016 by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Ed. note: This was originally published on the HHS.gov blog.

Each year, about 5,000 people are diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease and at least 20 outbreaks are reported. Legionnaires’ disease is a serious type of lung infection (pneumonia) that people can get by breathing in small droplets of water contaminated with Legionella. According to the latest CDCVital Signs report, more effective water management might have prevented most of the Legionnaires’ disease outbreaks that CDC investigated from 2000 through 2014. CDC advises building owners and managers to adopt newly published standards that promote Legionella water management programs.

In 1976, CDC investigated the first outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease. Legionella bacteria grows best in warm water that is not moving or that does not have enough disinfectant to kill germs, such as in hot tubs, decorative fountains, and showers. Most likely places for getting the disease are hotels, long-term care facilities, and hospitals. Legionnaires’ disease outbreaks can also occur on cruise ships. Symptoms of the disease include cough, shortness of breath, high fever, muscle aches, and headaches.

“Many of the Legionnaires’ disease outbreaks in the United States over the past 15 years could have been prevented,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H. “Better water system management is the best way to reduce illness and save lives, and today’s report promotes tools to make that happen.”

Building owners and managers can follow these steps:

  • Learn about and follow newly published standards for Legionella water management programs. http://bit.ly/1Ph3wQPexit disclaimer icon
  • Determine if the water systems in your buildings are at increased risk of growing and spreadingLegionella.
  • Develop and use a Legionella water management program as needed. www.cdc.gov/legionella/WMPtoolkit
  • Monitor and respond to changes in water quality.

Healthcare providers can tell patients if they are at increased risk for pneumonia, including Legionnaires’ disease, and to seek care quickly if they develop symptoms of pneumonia. They should also report Legionnaires’ disease lab tests to local public health authorities quickly, and test Legionnaires’ disease in people with serious pneumonia.

For more information, visit the Vital Signs Legionnaires’ disease web page.