Two persons affected by the outbreak of Legionnaire’s disease in Saratoga Springs, New York have died. The New York State Department of Health has confirmed eighteen cases of Legionnaire’s disease at multiple health care facilities in the Saratoga Springs area. According to reports, eleven of infected persons were patients at the Wesley Health Care Center, where nursing home officials have identified five sources of water contaminated with Legionella bacteria. Seven other cases were neither patients nor visitors at the Wesley facility. At least four persons were patients at Saratoga Hospital. DOH has not identified any other source of contamination, however, the state health department’s investigation is ongoing.
Legionnaire’s disease is a respiratory infection caused by Legionella bacteria that causes a severe form of pneumonia. Legionnaire’s disease cannot be transmitted by person-to-person contact. Infection generally results from inhaling water mist (microscopic water droplets) containing the bacteria. Legionella bacteria can contaminate water systems that have not been properly maintained such as hot water heaters and tanks, hot tubs and pools, shower heads, humidifiers, fountains, cooling equipment and plumbing systems.
Symptoms of Legionnaire’s disease include coughing, shortness of breath, high fever, chills, muscle aches and headaches. Diarrhea, nausea and confusion may also occur. Symptoms generally begin within 2 to 10 days after exposure. Legionnaire’s is a serious, life-threatening infection. While most people recover with antibiotic treatment, hospitalization is common and the disease is fatal in ten percent of cases. Certain people are at greater risk of infection, including those with a past history of smoking; compromised immune systems; and asthma, chronic lung disease or obstructive pulmonary disease.
Proper education, training, maintenance and testing of water sources and equipment is critical for the prevention and control of Legionella colonization in water systems. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers informative prevention and maintenance guidance resources for building and recreational water system owners and operators.