Mind the Water Heaters: They May Cause Legionnaires Disease


In 2019, two residents of a Utah senior center developed a bacterial disease called Legionnaires. They were not alone. In the same year, an outbreak occurred in North Carolina. More than 100 people contracted it, resulting in one fatality.

For years, the illness didn’t get the same airtime as other diseases for a good reason. It doesn’t happen often and impacts around 8,000 to 18,000 people only. The flu, meanwhile, can spread to at least 20% of the country’s population.

It doesn’t mean it’s something that one can brush off. It can lead to severe complications, including death.

What Is Legionnaires Disease? 

Also known as legionellosis, it is a respiratory condition caused by a bacterium known as Legionella. This pathogen can build up in many water systems, such as water heaters. That’s why when it starts to malfunction, homeowners must consider a water heater repair in Utah immediately.

The bacterium can thrive in colder temperatures inside these systems and infects individuals who may unknowingly breathe the mist or drink contaminated water.

This condition will result in atypical pneumonia, which others also call walking pneumonia. This is because the symptoms are often mild that a person can still function. These can include:

  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath

However, according to the CDC, it can be severe for one in every ten people. Those who contract it while in a healthcare facility, the statistics are higher. It may be fatal for one in every four.

It is more likely to be deadlier for people who belong to high-risk groups. These include older people, children, or individuals with compromised immune systems. They may have weak immunity that makes it harder for their bodies to fight off the infection.

How Does the Bacterium Affect the Body? 

Researchers from the University of Louisville believed they found the mechanism the bacterium uses to penetrate the host’s cell and cause inflammation of the lungs.

For two years, they observed how the pathogen hijacked the cellular processes of the amoeba. Legionella tagged specific proteins so that they broke down into their most basic unit called amino acids. The bacterium then used these acids to obtain the energy needed for them to multiply.

In humans and animals, the bacterium behaved in almost the same manner. However, instead of it tagging the proteins, it forced the body to do it.

When they experimented with mice, the researchers found that they could prevent the bacteria from tricking the body into tagging proteins and breaking down amino acids by controlling the pathogen’s virulence factor.

What’s the Treatment for Legionnaires? 

Despite these findings, the disease doesn’t have any vaccine. The standard pneumococcal vaccine isn’t effective, either. The pathogen is a bacterium, not a virus. Instead, the best treatment is antibiotics, although some data suggest it may not be useful for everyone.

Worse, research cites that the bacterium may develop resistance against some of the most common types of antibiotics. It makes the treatment process more challenging. Doctors may have to use a combination of strong medications. The patient may also run out of options.

The best way to manage this disease is still prevention. For those who have water heaters in Utah, they must see to it that it runs on a higher temperature not lower than 60 degrees Celsius. This level of heat will eventually kill the bacteria. For those who use cold water systems, the ideal temperature is below 20 degrees Celsius to keep Legionella dormant.

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