Legionnaires’ disease is in the headlines from time to time, especially when deaths are involved. Because it was something new and scary, it seemed to capture attention. It is a mysterious condition that frightens the heck out of organizers of communal venues. Outbreaks seem to recur and cause a stir with public health officials. It is their purview to take action to be sure. One particular incident was in a veteran’s hospital and it brought up serious concerns. Is it inevitable that it will rear its ugly head or is it an easily avoided tragedy?

The disease is called Legionella pneumophila and it is actually a type of bacterium. The name was given after a case in Philadelphia at the American Legion convention in 1976. While we may not remember this day, the name has stuck. Thus, it is a new type of traditional pneumonia that affects the lungs. It seems to occur where water is stored or employed such as hot water tanks, large plumbing systems, decorative fountains, hot tubs, and air-conditioning units. The latter has been given the most attention as a common source and cause of the disease, but there are many.

Legionnaires’ disease is not contagious nor spread from one human to another. Exposure to any of the sources above is also not a guarantee that you will be afflicted, but it can happen. The bacteria that has the impact may or may not affect your health. If and when it does, however, it can be moderate to severe. Experts say that a preventative such as a sophisticated dehumidifier might be able to deal with the moisture in water systems that is the culprit.

Anything you can do to avoid public tragedy is most welcome and action can ensue from the political arena. Health officials are the first line of defense in avoiding multiple deaths and incidences of Legionnaire’s disease. Where there is concern, there should be a government program put in place to address it. It has happened often enough to linger on as an issue and a problem. Subsidies for convention centers, for example, can come from local government to cover the cost of humidifier purchase and installation. It can pay for research as to needs and solutions.

Public service announcements are also a good way to disseminate information from government agencies. For example, it is vital to know who is at risk for the disease. People 65 and older, smokers, and those with emphysema or other chronic lung diseases must completely avoid exposure. Anyone with a weak immune system must beware. If a person believes they have encountered the bacterium, they must see a physician for a chest x-ray and physical examination. Any pneumonia symptoms will be assessed and if Legionnaire’s is the expect diagnosis, a sputum sample or lung biopsy may follow. Antibiotics seem to work well for most of the afflicted, although it may well be in a hospital setting. Without treatment, lung failure and death are possible.