Exploring the Link Between Legionnaires’ Disease and Pneumonia
Most of us have heard of Legionnaires’ disease and we are all likely to be aware of pneumonia too, but did you know there is a link between the two?
There are many illnesses and conditions that can affect the lungs. Legionnaires’ disease presents as a serious type of pneumonia. This is an inflammation of the lungs. Below, we’ll go into more detail about the link between Legionnaires’ disease and pneumonia. Both can be fatal, particularly among those who are more susceptible to this type of infection than others.
A version of this story exploring the link between Legionnaires’ disease and pneumonia appeared in Legionella Control International’s newsletter. To get it in your inbox, sign up for free here.
Does legionella cause pneumonia?
Legionella bacteria is transmitted to individuals in contaminated water droplets or aerosols that are suspended in the air. This may occur in various ways, but the result is the same – the individual inhales the water droplets that contain the bacteria, so it can then travel into the lungs.
Once this happens the individual will start to experience symptoms that can easily be mistaken for a bad cold or the ‘flu. Common symptoms include a fever, muscle aches and pains, a headache, and chills. Not all individuals who develop Legionnaires’ disease will experience severe symptoms; it can present in a mild form. Some people will need to be hospitalised while receiving treatment, but again, this does not apply to everyone. It is usually treated with antibiotics.
The symptoms of pneumonia differ slightly from those seen among Legionnaires’ patients. Someone may still have a fever, feel unwell, and exhibit other symptoms associated with ‘flu. However, it is common to have a cough that can be productive, with phlegm containing blood or presenting as yellow or green in colour.
As the bacteria enters the lungs, it causes an infection ranging from mild to severe. If you inhale Legionella bacteria and experience mild symptoms, you may be diagnosed with Pontiac fever. If your symptoms become more severe, you would be diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease. This is the more serious version of the infection and is confirmed as a form of pneumonia.
If someone has Pontiac fever through exposure to Legionella bacteria, they may recover without treatment, believing that they have had the ‘flu. If you think you might have pneumonia, you should consult your GP as soon as possible. If you have another condition, they may want to admit you to hospital for treatment rather than treating the condition at home.
How common is pneumonia?
Pneumonia is not particularly prevalent in the UK, although it does tend to peak in the colder weather in autumn and winter. Most years see between 0.5% and 1% of adults come down with pneumonia. Some adults are more likely to develop it than others. The elderly are more prone to pneumonia, as are those who are very young. The same applies to those more likely to develop Legionnaires’ disease.
Indeed, there are many similarities between the two groups most at risk from these diseases. Anyone who already has a lung condition is more prone to pneumonia of any kind. The same applies to those who smoke or have another long-term health condition. A poor immune system can also make it more challenging to fight back against the disease.
What is the difference between pneumonia and Legionnaires’ disease?
The difference between pneumonia and Legionnaires’ disease comes from the bacteria that causes the infection to start with. Streptococcus pneumoniae causes pneumonia. Legionella bacteria causes Legionnaires’ disease. If you are suspected of having pneumonia, testing would be required to determine the bacteria responsible for the infection.
Testing is important, especially in situations where Legionnaires’ disease is suspected. It takes between two and 10 days for Legionnaires’ disease to develop following exposure. If Legionnaires’ is confirmed, it is important to consider where the individual has been, as this can help identify the source and potentially prevent more infections.
Does the pneumonia vaccine prevent Legionnaires’ disease?
Since Legionnaires’ disease is a form of pneumonia, it might make sense to assume that a pneumonia vaccination would prevent someone from developing the disease. However, this is not the case.
Pneumonia is also known as a pneumococcal infection. This is caused by exposure to the Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria. In the case of Legionnaires’ disease, patients are exposed to the Legionella bacteria, so it has a different bacterial cause to pneumonia, and therefore the vaccine won’t work.
Is pneumonia infectious?
Whether pneumonia is infectious or not depends on the cause. If an individual is confirmed to have Legionnaires’ disease, they should not pose any risk to anyone else. However, if they have contracted pneumonia via the Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria, they will be infectious. This should be considered when being treated or recovering from the infection, as it can easily spread to other people.
Can you prevent outbreaks of Legionnaires’ disease?
Yes, Legionnaires’ disease is considered to be preventable by safety regulators around the world. If the proper steps are taken to keep water systems of all kinds clean and safe to use, there should be no need for an outbreak of Legionnaires’ to occur. If you are responsible for a water system in any building or venue, you must conduct a legionella risk assessment first. Once you understand where the water safety risks lie you can then plan to prevent the spread of bacteria through testing, cleaning, maintenance, and chemical dosing.
Leading legionella and water safety specialists
Legionella Control International are experienced legionella and water safety specialists supporting those responsible for the control of waterborne pathogens, including legionella in the workplace. We help businesses protect their workers, customers and others from the dangers caused by water systems, helping them to meet their health and safety obligations in this specialist area.
Through teams of experts we deliver a full range of services including risk assessments for legionella, pseudomonas and other waterborne pathogens. We also offer Authorising Engineer support, compliance auditing, water quality testing, City & Guilds training and other health and safety risk management services that help keep staff and others safe.
If you would like to speak with one of our water safety specialists about improving your legionella risk management processes call us today on 0330 223 36 86 or contact us here …