Ever heard of Legionnaires’ disease? It’s a serious condition that can be fatal if it isn’t treated correctly. While it is relatively rare, those who are health-conscious should familiarize themselves with the symptoms, treatments, and preventive measures associated with this potentially life-threatening infection. In this blog post, we’ll explore what Legionnaires’ Disease is and how you can keep yourself safe from infection by having an air hygiene plan in place. Plus, learn why certain supplements may play a role in preventing or treating Legionnaires’ disease.
What is Legionnaires’ Disease?
Legionnaires’ disease is an infection caused by the Legionella bacteria, which thrives in warm water environments such as hot tubs, cooling towers, and large plumbing systems. Inhaling tiny droplets of contaminated water can cause the bacteria to enter the lungs, leading to coughing, fever, and shortness of breath. The symptoms can be similar to pneumonia, so it’s important to seek prompt medical attention if you are experiencing any of these symptoms.
Legionnaires’ disease is regarded as a severe case of pneumonia that affects the lungs. The bacterium that causes the disease (Legionella pneumophila) thrives in moist conditions and airborne water droplets associated with water systems. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), vapor or mists contaminated with the bacteria may come from cooling towers, whirlpool spas and water used for bathing and drinking. The bacteria can also be found in natural water sources such as reservoirs, lakes and rivers. People contract Legionnaires’ diseases when they inhale the vapor or mist that contains the bacteria. Most cases of the disease are due to poor water management.
Those who are most vulnerable to Legionnaires’ disease include people over 50, current and former smokers, and people with weakened immune systems. However, healthy individuals can also be at risk, especially if they spend time in or near contaminated water sources. Some of the most common places where Legionnaires’ disease outbreaks occur are hotels, gyms, spas, and office buildings.
Symptoms of Legionnaires’ Disease
It takes approximately two to 10 days for Legionnaires’ disease to develop after exposure to Legionella. In most cases, symptoms start to show after 5-6 days. The initial symptoms of Legionnaire’s disease are similar to those of the flu and they may include:
Legionnaires’ Disease symptoms may initially appear mild and flu-like. You may experience fatigue, fever, chills, headache, and muscle ache. It is essential to monitor the symptoms and seek medical attention if they persist for more than a few days.
The bacterium responsible for this disease, Legionella, directly affects your respiratory system. As such, you may experience difficulty breathing or chest pains, which may worsen as the disease progresses.
One of the most obvious symptoms of Legionnaires’ disease is a high fever that can reach 104 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. The fever usually lasts for a few days and may be accompanied by chills and sweating.
Shortness of Breath
You may experience difficulty breathing or feel like you can’t catch your breath. You may also feel chest pain when you breathe deeply.
In some cases, Legionnaires’ Disease may cause gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. These symptoms can be concerning and aggravate the illness, causing more severe symptoms.
Coughing and Chest Pain
Another hallmark of Legionnaires’ disease is a persistent cough that may produce mucus or blood in some cases. The cough can be dry or chesty, and the chest pain may be sharp or dull. The pain may worsen when coughing or breathing deeply.
Fatigue and Muscle Aches
Legionnaires’ disease can cause extreme fatigue and weakness, which can interfere with daily activities. Muscle aches and stiffness are also common, making it challenging to move around or accomplish simple tasks.
One of the most common symptoms associated with Legionnaires’ Disease is a sudden onset of chills. They often come with a fever, and the patient may experience shivering and shaking. Chills usually show up within the first day of infection, and you should seek medical attention immediately. If left untreated, the fever can lead to further complications.
Feeling inexplicably tired is another symptom of Legionnaires’ Disease. Patients will feel exhausted, and their bodies may ache. This symptom often gets dismissed as ordinary fatigue, so it is important to pay attention to the onset and progression of the tiredness when making a diagnosis.
Legionnaires’ Disease often affects the nervous system, which can cause confusion, disorientation, and a general change in mental status. Patients may have difficulty remembering things or feel more irritable than usual. They may also have difficulty concentrating and may experience mood swings. Mental changes are some of the most severe symptoms of Legionnaires’ Disease.
Kidney failure is an extreme symptom experienced by patients who are in the advanced stages of Legionnaires’ Disease. It is caused by the damage to the delicate tissues of the kidney and can lead to lifelong kidney problems. Patients with Legionnaires’ Disease who experience kidney failure will usually require dialysis treatment.
Causes of Legionnaires’ Disease
The cause of this highly infectious disease is Legionella bacteria. It is a type of bacterium found naturally in air conditioning units, plumbing systems, water features and water fountains. It is also found naturally in freshwater environments such as lakes and streams. Legionella can become a health concern if it grows and spreads in human-made building water systems like hot water tanks, hot tubs, sink faucets, showerheads, cooling towers and decorative fountains.
Temperatures ranging from 20 to 45 degrees, or 68 to 113 Fahrenheit can be ideal for the Legionella bacteria to multiply rapidly and spread. When this happens, the water containing the bacteria spreads in small airborne water droplets that are tiny enough for people to breathe in. People get Legionnaires’ disease or Pontiac fever (a milder form of Legionnaire’s disease) when they inhale the small water droplets contaminated with the bacteria.
Though rare, people can also get infected by aspiration of taking water containing Legionella. This occurs when water accidentally enters the lungs, usually because a person chokes or coughs while drinking. People with swallowing difficulties are at the greatest risk of aspiration.
Soil can also transmit Legionella. It is possible to contract Legionnaires’ disease after coming into contact with contaminated potting soil or working in the garden.
Legionnaires’ disease is not contagious, meaning it cannot spread from person to person, but this can be a possibility under rare circumstances.
Risk Factors Associated with Legionnaire’s Disease
Not every individual exposed to Legionella bacteria develops Legionnaires’ disease. A person is at a greater risk of developing the infection if they:
- Are 50 years or older
- Have chronic health conditions like HIV/AIDS, diabetes, kidney disorders and lung disease, which can weaken the immune system and decrease its ability to fight infections
- Have a weak immune system
- Are current or former smokers
- Gender — men are most affected by Legionnaire’s disease than women
- Take certain medications — people taking medications like corticosteroids are at a greater risk of getting an infection
- Have an organ transplant — this is one of the intense risk factors with Legionnaires’ disease because the medicines involve in treatment may compromise a patient’s defense system, making it difficult to fight infections
Lifestyle factors like heavy alcohol intake increase the risk of getting an infection as well. People who smoke cannabis are even at a greater risk of getting Legionnaires’ disease, as one study suggests.
Legionnaires’ disease can cause a number of life-threatening health complications:
Legionnaire’s Disease often causes pneumonia, a condition that inflames the air sacs in your lungs. This can lead to serious breathing difficulties, chest pain, and other respiratory symptoms. Pneumonia can be especially dangerous in people with weakened immune systems or underlying respiratory conditions. If you or someone you know begins to experience symptoms of pneumonia after receiving a diagnosis with Legionnaire’s Disease, seek medical attention immediately.
In rare cases, Legionnaire’s Disease can lead to acute kidney injury. This occurs when the kidneys suddenly become unable to filter waste from the blood properly. Symptoms of kidney damage may include decreased urine output, swelling in the legs and feet, and fatigue. If left untreated, kidney damage can be life-threatening.
In severe cases, Legionnaire’s Disease can cause septic shock. This occurs when bacteria enter the bloodstream, leading to a dangerous drop in blood pressure. Symptoms of septic shock include fever, chills, confusion, rapid heartbeat, and shortness of breath. If you suspect that you or someone you know may be experiencing septic shock, seek medical attention immediately.
In rare cases, Legionnaire’s Disease may cause neurological complications, such as confusion, seizures, or even paralysis. If you or someone you know experiences any neurological symptoms after being receiving a diagnosis with Legionnaire’s Disease, seek medical attention immediately.
Some people who survive Legionnaire’s Disease may experience chronic fatigue for months or even years after the initial infection. This can be a debilitating condition that affects your ability to perform daily tasks. If you are experiencing chronic fatigue after receiving a diagnosis with Legionnaire’s Disease, talk to your healthcare provider about treatment options.
How to Prevent Legionnaires’ Disease
The best way to prevent Legionnaires’ disease is to avoid exposure to the bacteria. This means taking steps to prevent the growth of Legionella in water systems. For example, it is important to properly maintain hot tubs, whirlpools, and cooling towers. Regular cleaning, disinfecting, and testing of water systems can help prevent the bacteria from growing and spreading. You can also take steps to protect yourself by avoiding sources of water mist and drinking bottled water when in high-risk locations such as hotels or hospitals.
Outbreaks of Legionnaires’ disease can have prevention. The key to preventing the infection is good maintenance of the water systems where Legionella can grow, such as hot tubs, cooling towers and drinking water systems. These systems should experience cleaning and disinfection. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that a number of the cases that occur can have prevention if good water management is in practice. They state that most outbreaks were between 2000 and 2014 were by problems that could have received prevention through more effective water management.
Managers and owners of commercial buildings have received encouragement to adhere to guidelines provided regarding water safety.
How is Legionnaires’ Disease Diagnosed
It is usually difficult to diagnose Legionnaires’ disease because it can have symptoms similar to those of other types of pneumonia. This is why some medical tests are in use to diagnose Legionnaires’ disease. The tests are usually repeated after one week in order to confirm the diagnosis. Some of the tests that can carry out include:
- Urine test — this test helps to detect antigens, which are special proteins producing by the immune system to help combat the Legionella bacteria
- X-ray — this is an imaging test that we use to check the condition of the lungs and the kidneys
- A laboratory test that involves the uses of a sputum (phlegm) sample or washing from the lung
- Bloods tests
Can Legionnaires Disease Be Cured?
The short answer is yes, Legionnaires’ disease can be cured, but the key is early detection and treatment. Antibiotics are the primary treatment for Legionnaires’ disease. The most commonly used antibiotics include macrolides, fluoroquinolones, and tetracyclines. Depending on the severity of the infection, the antibiotics may need to be administered intravenously in a hospital setting. The length of treatment usually lasts for about 10-14 days, and symptoms may begin to improve within the first few days of treatment.
Is Legionnaires’ Disease Fatal?
Legionnaires’ Disease can be extremely dangerous, especially for people with weakened immune systems. Although most healthy people who contract the disease will recover with the help of antibiotics, it can lead to severe complications, such as respiratory failure, septic shock, and acute kidney failure. In some cases, the disease can be fatal.
Legionnaires’ Disease Treatment
The first line of treatment for Legionnaires’ disease is antibiotics. To effectively cure the disease, a combination of two antibiotics must receive a prescription by a doctor to prevent the bacteria from developing immunity against a single type of antibiotic. The severity of the disease and past medical history play a crucial role in the selection of antibiotics.
Treatment for Legionnaires’ disease involves antibiotics given intravenously or by mouth for between 10 to 14 days. The most type of antibiotics are:
- Tetracycline, which includes doxycycline
- Macrolides, which include azithromycin and erythromycin
- Fluoroquinolones like moxifloxacin, but Levaquin is most preferred
The choice of antibiotics depends on the patient’s tolerance to the medication and clinical state. In severe cases of Legionnaires’ disease that is resistant to a particular antibiotic, rifampin can be added as a second drug.
The drugs are necessary once the disease receives a diagnosis because the infection tends to progress rapidly.
After early treatment, a patient’s symptoms begin to improve within 3 to 5 days.
The symptoms of Legionnaires’ disease can also be managed through oxygen therapy, which helps in treating breathing difficulties. In this therapy, a person gets extra oxygen through a tube under their nose, or a mask, or a mechanical ventilator.
To complement the antibiotics and oxygen therapy prescribed by your doctor, there are also several home remedies that one can adopt to ease the symptoms of Legionnaires’ disease. Drinking plenty of fluids, getting enough rest, and maintaining optimal humidity and temperature in your living space can help you recover early.
Supplements for Legionnaires’ Disease
Although antibiotics are the primary treatment, using supplements to boost your immune system and alleviate symptoms can be useful.
Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that can support your immune system and improve lung function. It can also fight infections and reduce inflammation, which can speed up the healing process. Additionally, studies have shown that high doses of vitamin C can help treat pneumonia, a condition similar to Legionnaires’ disease. You can take a vitamin C supplement or consume foods rich in vitamin C, such as bell peppers, kiwis, oranges, and strawberries.
Zinc is a mineral that is crucial in maintaining a healthy immune system, wound healing, and reducing inflammation. It can also prevent bacterial growth and help improve respiratory function. Zinc supplements are available over-the-counter and can be found in foods like nuts, seeds, and shellfish.
Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that can provide a range of health benefits. They can help support gut health and boost your immune system, which can be especially useful for people with Legionnaires’ disease. Some strains of probiotics have also have anti-inflammatory properties and protect against respiratory infections. You can take probiotic supplements or consume foods like yogurt, kefir, and kimchi.
Vitamin D is essential for healthy bones, but its benefits don’t stop there. It can also support your immune system and protect against respiratory infections. In one study, people with vitamin D deficiency were more susceptible to respiratory infections like pneumonia. You can take a vitamin D supplement or get it naturally from sunlight, fortified milk, and fatty fish.
N-acetyl L-cysteine (NAC)
NAC is an amino acid that can break down mucus and improve lung function. It can also boost your body’s production of glutathione, an antioxidant that can protect against oxidative stress and inflammation. It is considered safe for adults, but is not recommended for individuals with asthma. In one study, NAC was found to reduce the severity of symptoms in people with pneumonia. NAC supplements can be found in health food stores or online.
For a patient to recover from Legionnaires’ disease symptoms, both the mind and body should be treated. Astragalus is an adaptogen and has anti-inflammatory capabilities that help boost the immune system. It can help lower fatigue and also help in the fight against respiratory infections while protecting the body against emotional, physical and mental stress. The suggested serving size for astragalus extract powder is 1,300 mg to be taken daily with meals, or as directed by a physician.
Neurological symptoms from Legionnaires’ disease can continue for months after treatment. Ginseng may help to improve concentration, mood, cognitive function and reduce stress. A study published in the journal Nutrition Reviews suggested that ginseng may benefit cognition. As a dietary supplement, take 1,000 mg (rounded ½ tsp) of ginseng extract powder once or twice daily, or as directed by a physician.
Echinacea is a herb known for its potential to boost the immune system. It’s an excellent supplement for people with Legionnaires’ disease because it can lower your risk of developing other infections while you fight the Legionella bacteria. Echinacea is readily available in most health food stores and pharmacies. Take it as a tea, tincture, or supplement powder or capsules following your doctor’s instructions.
Ginger is not only for its culinary use but also for medicinal purposes. It has anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties that make it an excellent natural remedy for those with Legionnaires’ disease. It can help soothe sore throats and reduce fever. You can add a few drops of fresh ginger to your tea or consume it as a ginger root extract supplement, following your physician’s directions.
Elderberry is another supplement that can aid in fighting Legionnaires’ disease symptoms. It contains antioxidants that boost the immune system and has anti-inflammatory properties that help reduce respiratory inflammation. We recommend taking an elderberry supplement, tincture, or tea, following your doctor’s advice.
Licorice root has several medicinal properties that can be beneficial when fighting Legionnaire’s disease. It’s famous for its potential to aid in reducing inflammation and fighting viral infections. Licorice root can also increase the production of mucus in the lungs, helping combat respiratory symptoms. It is available in powder, as a chewable tablet, or capsules.
Garlic is a herb commonly used in cooking, but it should not be left out of your natural treatment for Legionnaires’ disease. It has anti-bacterial properties that can help fight Legionella bacteria and reduce inflammation. The easiest way to take garlic is to eat it fresh or crush it on your food. Still, you can also consume it as capsules or supplements that contain the active ingredient, called allicin.
Magnesium and Potassium Supplements
Getting enough of these essential minerals is important while recovering from Legionnaires’ disease. Magnesium can help improve energy levels. Potassium is important in lowering some symptoms caused by Legionnaires’ like fatigue, poor neurological functioning and depression.
The Bottom Line
Legionnaires’ disease is an infectious disease but is not contagious. Researchers state that 1 in 10 infected individuals will die from the disease. The disease is by Legionella bacteria, which thrives in water in plumbing systems, hot tubs and air conditioning systems. It mostly is spreading through inhalation of airborne water droplets, and rarely through aspiration of infected water. The disease can receive a cure through antibiotics. Neurological function, fatigue and depression are symptoms that may persist for months or years after treatment.
If you’ve received a diagnosis with Legionnaire’s disease, incorporating herbal supplements into your regimen can provide a holistic approach to your treatment. Herbal supplements can help fight the bacteria and reduce the symptoms associated with Legionnaires’ disease. Please speak with your doctor about incorporating them into your treatment plan and make sure they won’t interact with any of your current medications. Keep in mind that these remedies can support your treatment, but not replace medications prescribed by your doctor.
These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease