CDC: Water system management key to curbing rise in Legionnaires’ | CIDRAP

This July will mark the 40-year anniversary of the Legionnaires’ disease outbreak at a Philadelphia hotel.

Legionellosis can cause flu-like symptom such as fever, chills, and cough. Older people and those with compromised immune systems are most vulnerable, and the infections are fatal in 10% of cases.

In 2015, about 5,000 Legionnaires’ disease cases were reported, and the CDC received reports of more than 20 outbreaks. Some that made headlines include one in the Bronx, N.Y., last summer that sickened 133 people, 16 fatally, and an outbreak at a Veteran’s Home in Quincy, Ill., that sickened 39 and killed 7.

Michigan officials have been investigating an increase in cases in Flint, Mich., in 2014 and 2015, which resulted in 88 illnesses and 10 deaths, according to a Mar 18 press release from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS). The outbreak raised suspicions about a possible link to contamination from a controversial change in the city’s water source, but only 31 of the patients lived in homes that received Flint water.

Drinking water, cooling towers common sources

In the CDC report today, the most common outbreaks locations were buildings that had large water systems, such as hotels, long-term care facilities, and hospitals. The outbreak sources for the 27 Legionnaires’ disease outbreaks in today’s report were potable water (56%), cooling towers (22%), and hot tubs (7%).

Stepping up water management

Frieden said the CDC is calling for improvements in water management programs, and to assist the efforts, it urged building managers and owners to learn about new standards published by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE).

The CDC also launched a toolkit to walk building managers through the process of developing a water management program to reduce Legionella growth, such as developing a team to tackle the issue, identifying areas in the system where Legionella can grow, and deciding where to apply controls and how to measure them.

“The bottom line is that almost all of these infections are preventable,” he said.

Frieden also said health providers play a critical role in screening and testing people with serious pneumonia.

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