DEFINITION--A form of lung infection (bronchopneumonia) named after an epidemic
that affected 182 people attending an American Legion convention in 1976.
BODY PARTS INVOLVED--Bronchial tubes; lungs.
SEX OR AGE MOST AFFECTED--Both sexes, but more common in men over age 40.
SIGNS & SYMPTOMS
- General ill feeling.
- Chills and fever up to 105F (40.6C).
- Muscle aches.
- Cough without sputum that progresses to one with gray or blood-streaked sputum.
- Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea.
CAUSES--Infection from bacteria (Legionella pneumophilia) that is not contagious
between persons. The germ is transmitted through the air, and the incubation period after
exposure is 2 to 10 days. In the 1976 epidemic, the germ was transmitted through the
cooling and evaporating elements of a large, central air-conditioning system. The bacteria
are also found in excavation sites and newly plowed soil.
RISK INCREASES WITH
- Chronic, debilitating illness including diabetes mellitus, chronic kidney failure or
- Smoking. This increases the risk 3 to 4 times.
- Excess alcohol consumption.
- Use of immunosuppressive drugs, including cortisone and anticancer drugs.
> Don't drink more than 1 or 2 alcoholic drinks--if any--a day.
What To Expect
- Your own observation of symptoms.
- Medical history and physical exam by a doctor.
- Laboratory blood studies and culture of sputum, bronchoscopy (see Surgery section).
APPROPRIATE HEALTH CARE
- Doctor's treatment.
- Hospitalization for intensive care and oxygen (severe cases).
- Self-care for mild cases or during convalescence after hospitalization.
- Shock or delirium.
- Congestive heart failure.
- Kidney failure.
- Heart-rhythm disturbances.
PROBABLE OUTCOME--Usually curable with prompt diagnosis and treatment. If
untreated, 15% of cases are fatal.
How To Treat
GENERAL MEASURES----The following apply to mild cases or to care after
- Use a cool-mist ultrasonic humidifier to increase air moisture and thin lung secretions
so they can be coughed up more easily. Clean humidifier daily.
- Use warm compresses or a heating pad on the chest to relieve chest pain.
- Practice deep-breathing exercises as often as your strength allows.
- Avoid loud talking, laughing or singing. They may trigger excessive coughing.
- Keep warm. If you become chilled, the infection can become more severe.
- Your doctor may prescribe antibiotics. Be sure to finish all prescribed medication.
- If the cough is painful and doesn't produce sputum, you may use non-prescription
medicine to suppress it. If the cough produces sputum, don't suppress it.
- You may take aspirin or acetaminophen to reduce fever.
ACTIVITY--Rest in bed until completely well. Allow 2 to 4 weeks for recovery.
DIET--No special diet. Maintain adequate fluid by drinking 6-8 glasses daily.
Call Your Doctor If
- You have symptoms of Legionnaire's disease.
- The following occurs during or after treatment: Temperature spike to 102F (38.9C).
Severe chest pain, despite treatment. Increased shortness of breath. Dark or bluish nails,
lips or skin. Blood in the sputum.
- New, unexplained symptoms develop. Drugs used in treatment may produce side effects.