Symptoms of Legionnaires’ disease

Legionnaires symptoms are similar to the flu, but they can become more serious in a few days.

I’ve been learning about Legionnaires’ disease, a relatively rare, but quite serious type of pneumonia. It is caused by breathing in small droplets of water that contain a bacteria called Legionella. Most people don’t develop Legionnaires’ disease if they become exposed to the bacteria because their immune systems are strong enough to fight it. However, some people may be more susceptible to contracting the disease, including those who smoke, are 50 years of age or older, have a chronic lung condition, have another chronic health condition such as diabetes, cancer or HIV/AIDS, and those who are taking drugs that reduce their ability to fight infections.

The symptoms of Legionnaires’ disease are similar to those of the flu. They include fever, headache, muscle aches and chills. More serious symptoms might develop in some people in as little as a day or two. Those symptoms include high fever, cough, difficulty breathing, chest pains, chills and stomach distress such as nausea, vomiting or diarrhea. You may even experience confusion or other behavioral changes. According to the Mayo Clinic, Legionnaires’ disease can occasionally cause infections in wounds or other parts of the body, such as the heart. Watch for symptoms for as long as two weeks after exposure to the bacteria. See a doctor right away if you develop pneumonia symptoms. Let him or her know if you have been in a hot tub recently, had a hospital stay, or if you spent any nights away from home.

If you have symptoms of Legionnaires’ disease you should seek medical attention immediately. Since the symptoms of Legionnaires’ disease are so similar to those of pneumonia, make sure you tell your doctor if you think you’ve been exposed to Legionella bacteria. Antibiotics are used to treat Legionnaires’ disease, and it’s best if they’re given early before the illness progresses. Most people who come down with Legionnaires’ disease will need to be treated in a hospital. X-rays and blood tests will be used to determine if you have the disease.

While there are no vaccines to protect you from Legionnaires’ disease, there are vaccines that can prevent other types of pneumonia. They are the pneumococcal and flu vaccines. All adults age 65 and older should get both kinds of pneumococcal vaccines. Adults younger than age 65 with certain health conditions or who smoke should also have the pneumococcal vaccination. Everyone over the age of six months should get a flu vaccine each year. Talk to your doctor to find out which vaccines are recommended for you.

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