CDC: Better Water System Maintenance Needed to Prevent Legionnaires'

Prevalence of the disease is rising. In the past year, about 5,000 people were diagnosed with Legionnaires' disease and more than 20 outbreaks were reported to CDC.

An analysis by CDC indicates more effective water management might have prevented most of the rising number of Legionnaires' disease outbreaks its personnel investigated from 2000 through 2014. The Vital Signs report shows that the building-associated outbreaks had problems such as inadequate disinfectant levels, human error, and equipment breakdowns that led to growth of Legionella bacteria in the water systems. CDC released a new toolkit to help building owners and managers prevent such problems.

The number of people with Legionnaires' disease rose nearly fourfold times from 2000–2014, with about 5,000 people diagnosed with it during that period; the disease kills about 10 percent of people who get it, and 90 percent of all outbreaks are caused by problems that are preventable with more effective water management, according to CDC.

Legionnaires' is a lung infection (pneumonia) that people can get by breathing in small droplets of water contaminated with Legionella. Most people who get sick need hospital care and make a full recovery.

"Many of the Legionnaires' disease outbreaks in the United States over the past 15 years could have been prevented," said CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden, M.D., MPH. "Better water system management is the best way to reduce illness and save lives, and today's report promotes tools to make that happen."

The report examined 27 building-associated Legionnaires' outbreaks investigated by CDC across 24 states and territories, Mexico, and Canada. The most common source of those outbreaks was potable water (56 percent), followed by cooling towers (22 percent) and hot tubs (7 percent). Other sources included industrial equipment (4 percent) and a decorative fountain/water feature (4 percent). In two outbreaks, the source was never identified.

CDC investigated the first outbreak of Legionnaires' disease in 1976 among people who attended an American Legion convention in Philadelphia.

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