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fitfortravel

Travel health information for people travelling abroad from the UK

Legionnaires’ Disease

Introduction

Legionnaires’ Disease is a severe form of pneumonia that can be fatal, caused by infection with Legionella bacteria.

Legionella bacteria are found worldwide in fresh water environments, both natural and man-made, and in damp soil, compost and mud.

Infection occurs when infected droplets/aerosols are inhaled.  These aerosols are often generated in contaminated artificial water systems such as air conditioning units/cooling towers, spas, fountains and shower units.

Infection is not spread person to person.

The Illness

Between 2 and 10 days after becoming infected flu-like symptoms (fever, headache, loss of appetite, sore muscles, tiredness) occur and may be accompanied by confusion. Cough, shortness of breath and pains in the chest occur as pneumonia develops.

Anyone can catch Legionnaires’ disease, but it is more common and/or severe in those with the following risk factors:

  • Age over 50 years
  • Current or previous smokers
  • Excess alcohol consumption
  • Diabetes
  • Heart or lung disease
  • Immunosuppression due to medication, chemotherapy or underlying diseases

Treatment

Legionnaires’ Disease needs prompt treatment with antibiotics for at least 7 days.

Recommendations

The risk of infection is greatest in those with risk factors (see above) staying in poorly maintained accommodation.

Prior to travel you should check if there are any recent known outbreaks at your destination.

  • News items on the individual country pages of fitfortravel will detail any recent outbreaks
  • A surveillance system for infection exists in Europe. Accommodation where the  infection has been reported is published online and can be accessed hereIcon Newwindow

Recommendations for Travellers

  • Flushing through showers with hot water, before entering the shower, in hotels or institutions when they have not been used recently may help.
  • Seek medical advice promptly if any symptoms of infection develop, including up to 2 weeks after travel.

There is no vaccine to protect against Legionnaires’ disease.

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