Sick with Legionnaires’ disease?
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Two residents at Stella Maris, an independent-living apartment complex in suburban Baltimore, were diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease, according to officials with the Baltimore County Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

Water restrictions were instituted at St. Elizabeth Hall, which has a separate water system on the Stella Maris campus, after residents and health officials were notified of the outbreak. Campus officials said they will continue to test the water, cooling and heating systems, as well as having them treated and monitored for Legionella, the bacteria that causes Legionnaires’ disease.

No information was provided on the two residents who were sickened.

Stella Maris is a nonprofit, long-term care facility in Timonium, Maryland, sponsored by the Sisters of Mercy, as an affiliate of Mercy Health Services. The facility offers inpatient and home hospice care, long-term and dementia care, home health and personal care, counseling and bereavement services, medical care, rehabilitation, pastoral care, and a senior day center.

Results pending
The HHS collected water samples from the complex, and results of those tests are pending, according to an email to the Baltimore Sun from HHS public information officer Elyn Garrett-Jones.

A mild form of Legionnaires’ disease — known as Pontiac fever — can produce signs and symptoms including a fever, chills, headaches and muscle pains. Pontiac fever, however, doesn’t infect the lungs, and symptoms usually clear within two to five days.

Seniors at high 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).

More disease info

Legionnaires’ disease – also called legionellosis and Legionella pneumonia – is a severe type of pneumonia or lung infection. The bacterial infection is treatable with antibiotics, although if it is not diagnosed early, it can lead to severe complications and even become deadly. It is not contagious; that is, it cannot be passed from person to person.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 25,000 cases of pneumonia due to Legionella bacteria (Legionella pneumophila) occur in the United States on a yearly basis. However, only 5,000 cases are reported because of the disease’s nonspecific signs and symptoms.

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

Legionella, which is the bacteria that causes Legionnaires, 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.