CDC: Legionnaires’ disease cases more than quadrupled in recent years even though they are largely preventable

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has declared that cases of Legionnaires’ disease have over quadrupled in last some years, though the outbreaks were mainly preventable.

The illness is a kind of pneumonia that takes place when people inhale water droplets contaminated with the Legionella bacteria. On Tuesday, the CDC reported that the number of diagnoses of the illness has gone up from 1,127 in 2000 to 5,166 in 2014.

It spreads mainly in water sprayed by showers, hot tubs, ornamental fountains and air conditioning cooling towers. Though most of patients fully recover from it, many of them get hospitalized, and 10% lose their lives to the illness.

The CDC said that the rise in the number of cases may be an outcome of an aging population, older plumbing or changes in climate. There is a possibility that doctors have become better at diagnosing the disease and have started reporting the cases to health departments.

Previous year, New York City faced the biggest Legionnaires’ disease outbreak in its history, wherein the disease made 133 people ill in the South Bronx and took 16 lives. In Flint, Mich., region, an outbreak killed 12 people, making over 90 people ill between 2014 to 2015, as per the state health department.

The CDC said that most cases of the disease occur in the people above 50 and the individuals facing some risk factors, like chronic lung disease, smoking history or have weakened immune system. Coughing, breath shortness, muscle pain and headache are the symptoms of the illness.

As per the CDC, the US experiences nearly 20 Legionnaires’ outbreaks annually. The most common spots of the disease are hospitals, hotels and long-term care facilities, like nursing homes.

According to a story published on the topic by USA TODAY, “The number of diagnoses of the illness — a type of pneumonia that occurs when people breathe in small droplets of water contaminated with the Legionella bacteria — grew from 1,127 in 2000 to 5,166 in 2014, the CDC reported Tuesday.”

The increase in cases could be the result of an aging population, older plumbing or climate changes, the CDC said. It’s also possible doctors are better at diagnosing the disease and reporting it to health departments, making Legionnaires’ appear more common.

New York City experienced the largest Legionnaires’ outbreak in its history last year, when the disease sickened 133 people in the South Bronx and killed 16. An outbreak in the Flint, Mich., area killed 12 people and infected more than 90 from 2014 to 2015, according to the state health department.

Most Legionnaires’ cases develop in people over age 50 and those with certain risk factors, such as chronic lung disease, a history of smoking or a weakened immune system, according to the CDC. Symptoms include coughing, shortness of breath, muscle pain and headache.

“Today, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released new guidelines in the fight to prevent Legionnaires’ disease. The publication of the toolkit is a giant step forward in offering practical guidelines to help building owners control Legionella bacteria once it has entered their buildings from the public water supply,” according to a news report published by PR Newswire.

“With the publication of the CDC’s guidelines, we urge federal, state and local governments to step up and fully address the public water distribution systems to stop Legionella from reaching the buildings in which we live and work,” said Daryn Cline, a spokesperson for an Alliance to prevent Legionnaires’ disease. “The evidence clearly illustrates the need for a more comprehensive approach in the fight against Legionnaires’ disease.”

The CDC’s toolkit reflects best practices for building water system maintenance. According to the CDC’s recent report on investigations into building-associated Legionnaires’ disease outbreaks, 56 percent of outbreaks were caused by contaminated drinking-water systems. An outbreak is classified as two or more people contracting Legionnaires’ disease within the same water system.

“Many of the Legionnaire’s 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 in a media release issued by the CDC today. “Better water system management is the best way to reduce illness and save lives, and today’s report promotes tools to make that happen.”

A report published in Contractormag said, “Recent outbreaks of Legionnaire’s in Flint, Michigan and the Bronx have put the spotlight squarely on the nation’s public water infrastructure—and the onus on water agencies and building owners to control the spread of Legionella.”

We are proud to endorse the CDC’s new guidelines. The implementation will have an enormous impact on the most susceptible portions of the population,” said Tonya Winders, President and CEO of the Allergy & Asthma Network. “As an advocate for those with asthma and other related respiratory illnesses, I know how important it is that the guidelines the CDC are recommending must be seriously considered as a comprehensive way to tackle a disease that claims the lives of hundreds of people each year.”

“The importance of establishing an effective building-water management plan, as described by the CDC, should not be taken lightly,” said John Letson, Vice President of Plant Operations at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. “Because they house the most at-risk portion of the population, hospitals have already implemented rigorous programs with regards to Legionella bacteria, but the protections shouldn’t stop there. Once a patient with a compromised immune system is discharged, it is essential that the water in their home is free of Legionella bacteria.”

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