Why is legionnaire’s disease so called ?

By teamblog

Dec 26, 2019
Legionnaire’s disease was first precisely identified in the United States in July 1976. That year, the 58th American Legion Congress was held in Philadelphia. The celebrations took place at the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel and lasted for three days. Nearly 2,000 war veterans were attending the convention.

The Congress is also an opportunity to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the US Declaration of Independence, a historic date. History, however, will not remember it this way.

A week after the end of the festivities, several legionnaires began to show alarming symptoms: headaches, high fever, digestive disorders, respiratory difficulties and pain, delirium or even coma. Out of the 2,000 veterans attending, 182 will be contaminated: 147 will be hospitalized and 29 will die.

The largest medical survey of the United States in the 20th century followed. Widely covered by the media, the track is on very front page. The press and especially the Time Magazine is all about the “Philly Killer”. Bioterrorism? KGB ? Homicide or microorganism? No lead is ruled out.

It was not until January 1977, six months after the fact, that scientists of the Center of Disease Control and Prevention were eventually able to identify the culprit : a pathogenic bacteria. They named it Legionella pneumophila and the disease became worldwidly known as Legionnaire’s disease.

Legionella pneumophila is a particularly virulent strain of the Legionella family of bacteria. It proliferate in water systems and air conditioning cooling towers are the perfect breeding ground for their development. It is precisely through the air-conditioning system of the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel that the contamination has spread.

The hotel closed down in the following months. Sanitary regulations concerning the maintenance of water networks and cooling towers quickly became mandatory. Retrospectively, several mysterious epidemics were identified as cases of legionellosis or Pontiac fever, a mild form of the disease.

Today, cases of legionellosis are on the rise. They are increasing by 5% each year. There is no vaccine or preventive treatment against the disease, and the best way to prevent infection is to keep water installations well maintained. 

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