Sick with Legionnaires’ disease?
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A patient at Kaiser Permanente’s Moanalua Medical Center (MMC) was confirmed with Legionnaires’ disease, the first reported case of the disease in Hawaii since an outbreak in June at another Honolulu hospital, The Queen’s Medical Center. In that outbreak, four people were sickened, and one victim died.

The MMC patient, whose age and gender was not released, has recovered and is expected to be discharged soon.

The incident was reported to the Hawaii State Department of Health (DOH), and the illness was determined to have originated within the hospital, according to DOH public information officer Janice Okubo. The DOH is working with MMC officials on follow-up measures.

“Our staff is confident that there is no risk to the public,” Okubo told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

“It’s unclear where this infection may have come from, but we’ve already begun an intensive investigation and are taking extra precautions to protect our members and staff from the possibility of infection,” according to a statement released by hospital officials. “In an initial review, we see no indication of other cases having occurred at our medical center and will continue to work closely with the Department of Health. Our patients’ safety and well-being are our highest priority.”

All four patients infected in the June outbreak were older than 50. Two of the illnesses were determined to be hospital-acquired illnesses; the other two were community-acquired illnesses.

Popular tourist spot
Honolulu is on the island of Oahu, which is the third-largest of the 140 islands that make up Hawaii (tourists visit only the six largest islands: Hawaii, Maui, Oahu, Kauai, Molokai, and Lanai). Oahu is home to Honolulu, Waikiki Beach, Pearl Harbor, Diamond Head and the Polynesian Cultural Center, which are among the most popular tourist destinations in the state.

Legionnaires’ disease cases in Hawaii increased each of the previous two years, from 12 in 2016 to 14 in 2017. Before that, nine cases were reported in both 2013 and 2014 and seven in 2015.

Before the June outbreak, the most recent Legionnaires’ disease outbreak in Hawaii occurred in June 2016, when two confirmed cases and a third suspected case forced the temporary closure of the WorldMark Kapaa Shore Resort in Kapaa, Kauai.

Legionnaires’ info

Legionnaires’ disease – also called legionellosis and Legionella pneumonia – is a severe type of lung infection. According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 25,000 cases of pneumonia due to Legionella bacteria (Legionella pneumophila) occur yearly in the U.S. Only 5,000 cases are reported, however, because of its nonspecific signs and symptoms.

Ten percent of people who become infected with Legionnaires will die from the infection.

Legionella 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.

Where do Legionella live?
Outbreaks have been linked to a number of sources:

  • 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.

Legionnaires symptoms
Legionnaires’ disease is similar to other types of pneumonia. Symptoms can even resemble those of flu, which is why it often goes under-reported. Symptoms include:

  • cough
  • shortness of breath
  • fever
  • muscle aches
  • headaches
  • gastrointestinal symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Who is most at risk?
Anyone can become ill from Legionella, but 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).