RIDOH reports increased number of cases of Legionnaires’ Disease

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PROVDIENCE, R.I. (WLNE) – The Rhode Island Department of Health reported Monday that it has observed an increase in the number of cases of Legionnaires’ disease.

Legionnaires’ disease occurs when someone inhales water droplets that contain the Legionella bacteria. RIDOH says symptoms start two to 10 days after exposure, and include cough, shortness of breath, fever, muscle aches, and headaches.

It cannot be spread between people.

“We know that Legionella bacteria grow best in complex water systems that are not well maintained. When this water becomes aerosolized in small droplets, such as in a cooling tower, shower, or decorative fountain, people can accidentally breathe in the contaminated water,” said Director of Health Nicole Alexander-Scott, MD, MPH. “This is of particular concern now as some buildings’ water systems have been offline for a prolonged period due to the COVID-19 pandemic and are just now returning to service.”

RIDOH says between 2014 and 2020, there was an average of 10 cases during the months of June and July every year. In June and July of 2021, there have been 30 cases, 29 of which have illness onset dates between June 17 and July 21.

Twenty-eight of the 30 people have been hospitalized.

So far, RIDOH has not identified a common source of exposure, though it says an investigation is ongoing. In a release, RIDOH said “Legionella is especially a concern in buildings that primarily house people older than 65, buildings with multiple housing units and a centralized hot water system (like hotels or high-rise apartment complexes), and buildings higher than 10 stories.”

RIDOH advises that if you live in a building that meets any of the aforementioned criteria, ask if there is a Legionella Water Management Program in place. Additionally, follow the manufacturer’s directions about how to clean and disinfect showerheads, whirlpools, hot tubs, and breathing equipment like CPAP machines.

Categories: News, Rhode Island