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Legionella bacteria are found naturally in the environment and thrive in warm water habitats. Problems can occur when building water systems are contaminated with Legionella bacteria. Exposure to legionella bacteria can cause serious, life-threatening infections.
Legionellosis actually refers to two illnesses: Legionnaire’s Disease and Pontiac Fever. Both illnesses are caused by exposure to Legionella bacteria. Most commonly, people get Legionnaires’ disease or Pontiac Fever when they inhale water vapor or mist from building water systems that have been contaminated with Legionella bacteria.
In the United States, between 8,000 and 18,000 people are hospitalized for Legionnaires’ disease each year. People with Legionnaires’ disease often end up with a lung infection (pneumonia) because legionella bacteria grow so well in the lungs. In about 10 percent of cases, Legionnaires’ disease ends up being fatal.
Pontiac Fever is the lesser of two evils. It is caused by the same legionella bacteria as Legionnaires’ disease, but results in less severe, flu-like symptoms.
The first known outbreak of Legionellosis, or Legionnaires’ Disease, occurred at the 1976 American Legion Convention in Philadelphia. (Yes, this is where Legionellosis got its name.) Over 200 attendees acquired the infection and between 29 and 34 died from the disease.