Sick with Legionnaires’ disease?
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Elliot Olsen has decades of experience representing people harmed by Legionnaires’ disease, and he has regained millions of dollars for them. If you or a family member contracted Legionnaires’ disease in Sioux Falls, you might have cause to file a lawsuit. Call (612) 337-6126 for a free consultation.

The South Dakota Department of Health (DOH) has asked for help from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) after 14 confirmed cases of Legionnaires’ disease all required hospitalization in Sioux Falls, according to a news release by the state. One victim died.

Twenty-four cases of Legionnaires’ disease, a severe type of pneumonia (or lung infection), have been reported in South Dakota in 2018. The state typically sees between eight and 15 cases annually.

“This is something that we wanted to raise awareness, specifically to help identify additional individuals who may be ill within the community that should be seeking their health-care provider for testing, ” state epidemiologist Dr. Joshua Clayton, Ph.D., MPH, told KELOLAND News. “This is not a huge concern in terms of the overall risk. What we’re seeing is a general increase.”

Hunt is on for source(s)
The DOH is interviewing patients to identify commonalities and to try to pinpoint possible exposure areas and determine the cause(s) of the illnesses. The DOH also has contacted health-care providers in Sioux Falls to notify them of the increase to assist them in quickly diagnosing and treating the disease.

Because of the similarity to other forms of pneumonia, Legionnaires’ disease often goes undetected, unless special laboratory tests are performed.

“In addition to enhanced case investigations, CDC will assist us with environmental assessments and testing to identify water sources that may contain the Legionella bacteria,” Clayton was quoted in the news release. “However, it is often the case that a single source may not be found.”

The Sioux Falls Health Department will be coordinating outreach to local businesses.

Watch for symptoms
If you live, work in, or travel through Sioux Falls, you should be overly cautious. If you are feeling sick, it’s recommended you see your health-care provider immediately out of an abundance of caution.

Legionnaires’ disease symptoms are similar to those of other types of pneumonia, and they can even resemble those of influenza (flu). Those symptoms include:

  • cough
  • difficulty breathing
  • fever
  • muscle aches
  • headaches
  • gastrointestinal symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Legionnaires’ disease is treatable with antibiotics when diagnosed early. If not diagnosed quickly, the disease can lead to severe complications and even become deadly. It is not contagious; that is, it cannot be passed from person to person.

One in 10 patients infected with Legionnaires’ disease will die from the infection.

Who is most at risk?
The 14 illnesses in Sioux Falls affected people who either reside or traveled to the city. Those sickened range in age from 36 to 80 years old, with a median age of 57.

Most people exposed to the bacteria don’t develop the disease, but anyone can become ill from Legionella. Those most susceptible to infection include:

  • people 50 years of age or older
  • smokers, both current and former
  • heavy drinkers of alcoholic beverages
  • people with chronic lung disease
  • people with compromised immune systems
  • recipients of organ transplants
  • individuals who are on specific drug protocols (corticosteroids, to name one).

Outbreak? Cluster? Community-acquired?
The terms “cluster” and “outbreak” are used when multiple cases are reported in or around the same proximity and within a designated period. The term “community-acquired” is used when there are no commonalities; these kinds of cases are the most common.

If two or more illnesses occurred in the same general vicinity within a period of three to 12 months, the term “cluster” would be used.

If two or more cases are reported within days or weeks, rather than months, and occurred in a more limited geographic area – meaning officials can pinpoint a specific area within a city where illnesses occurred – then the term “outbreak” would be used.

The DOH has not classified the increase in cases within Sioux Falls.

Legionnaires’ 101

Legionnaires’ disease is also known as legionellosis or Legionella pneumonia. According to the CDC, an estimated 25,000 cases of pneumonia due to Legionella bacteria (Legionella pneumophila) occur in the U.S. annually. However, only 5,000 cases are reported because of its nonspecific signs and symptoms.

Legionella bacteria are contracted by inhaling microscopic water droplets, usually in the form of mist or vapor. The bacteria, which grow best in warm water, are found primarily in human-made environments.

Possible sources
Outbreaks and clusters have been linked to a number of sources, such as:

  • large plumbing systems
  • showers and faucets
  • hot-water tanks and heaters
  • swimming pools
  • hot tubs and whirlpools
  • decorative fountains
  • mist machines and hand-held sprayers
  • equipment used in physical therapy
  • water systems, such as those used in hospitals, nursing homes, and hotels
  • the cooling towers of air conditioning systems.

Warmer weather a problem
Legionnaires’ disease is “an emerging disease in the sense that the number of recorded cases of Legionnaires in the United States continues to increase,” said Laura Cooley, MD, MPH from the CDC’s Respiratory Diseases Branch.

In a 2017 interview, Cooley said the increase is due to a rise in the susceptibility of the population, with more and more people on immunosuppressive medications. There also could be more Legionella in the environment, with warmer temperatures creating the right conditions for bacterial growth.

Seventeen of the 18 warmest years since modern record-keeping began have occurred since 2001, according to analyses by both the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The four warmest years on record have occurred since 2014, with 2017 being the warmest non-El Niño year recorded.

This year is shaping up to be the fourth-hottest year on record. The only years hotter were the three previous ones.