Is Legionnaires' Disease Contagious? Here's What to Know About the Outbreak in Atlanta
One woman is dead following a suspected Legionnaires' disease outbreak that happened at an Atlanta hotel, first reported on in July.
According to WSB-TV Atlanta's Channel 2 Action News, Cameo Garrett died in July after contracting Legionnaires' disease in June. More specifically, Garrett died from "coronary artery atherosclerosis aggravated by Legionella pneumonia," per her autopsy report, obtained by the news station.
Garrett reportedly stayed at the Sheraton Atlanta hotel, where the suspected Legionnaires' disease outbreak took place, according to Channel 2 Action News. In an interview with the news station, Garrett's father, Al Garrett, revealed some of the symptoms his daughter suffered from. "She said she was having stomach problems and intestinal problems," he said.
The Sheraton Atlanta closed in mid-July after The Georgia Department of Health began investigating three confirmed cases of Legionnaires' disease, linked to the hotel. Since then, Georgia authorities say there have been 12 lab-confirmed cases, including Garrett's death, and 61 probable cases of Legionnaires' disease related to that outbreak.
It's all pretty serious (and scary), but how much do you really need to be worried about your risk of contracting Legionnaires' disease, especially if you've been in Atlanta recently? Here's what you need to know.
What is Legionnaires’ disease—and is it contagious?
Legionnaires’ disease is a severe type of bacterial pneumonia or lung infection. The CDC has said that up to 18,000 people each year are hospitalized with the disease.
It is an infectious disease, but it’s different from illnesses like the flu because it isn’t transmitted via person-to-person contact. Instead, you catch Legionnaires’ disease by inhaling mist from water contaminated with Legionella bacteria.
What are Legionnaires’ disease symptoms?
Symptoms of the disease can be noticed from a couple of days to two weeks after exposure to contaminated water. They include fever, chills, cough, headache, muscle aches, loss of appetite, diarrhea, confusion, and fatigue.
Certain risk factors make Legionnaires’ a bigger threat to some people. Those aged 50 or older, people with chronic lung conditions, smokers, and people who have an illness that affects the immune system may be more likely to develop Legionnaires’ disease if exposed to contaminated water.
Where can you get Legionnaires’ disease?
The bacterial strain responsible for 90% of Legionnaires’ cases lives in whirlpool spas, hot water tanks, cooling towers, ornamental fountains, and large air conditioning systems. The summer months often bring clusters of Legionnaires’ disease cases.
Small amounts of the bacteria that cause the illness won’t necessarily be harmful. But it’s worrisome when the bacteria start multiplying, Hassan Bencheqroun, MD, an assistant clinical professor at the University of California, Riverside, previously told Health. Luckily, however, most healthy individuals do not become infected with Legionella bacteria after exposure, per the CDC.
How is Legionnaires’ disease treated?
Treating Legionnaires’ isn’t always as simple as a round of antibiotics, though sometimes that works. But the death rates for the illness range from 5% to 30%. Some people who develop the disease have to spend time in an intensive care unit to heal, Dr. Bencheqroun said.
But the good news is that antibiotics that can treat Legionnaires’ are available. “We have excellent antibiotics that treat this pneumonia, and these antibiotics are not complex, third tier, only-accessible-to-the-rich kinds of antibiotics,” Dr. Bencheqroun previously said.