1. ITV Report

What is Legionnaires' disease?

One man has died following a Legionnaires' outbreak in Scotland. Photo:

One man has died and 15 people are in a critical condition in hospital following an outbreak of Legionnaires' disease in Edinburgh. A further 15 people are suspected to have contracted the disease and are also being treated in hospital.

Here are some facts about the disease:

  • Legionnaires' disease is a potentially fatal lung infection that is caused by the bacteria legionella.
  • The bacteria are commonly found in any freshwater environment such as rivers and lakes but can sometimes find their way into artificial water supply systems.
  • It is contracted when small droplets of contaminated water are breathed in. It cannot spread from person to person.
  • Everyone is potentially vulnerable to the disease but those who may experience a more severe form of infection include the elderly, smokers, diabetes sufferers, those with kidney disease and cancer patients.
  • Legionnaires' disease is three times more common in men than women, and it mostly affects people who are over 50.
  • Symptoms of the disease include headaches, muscle pain, high fever, chills, a persistent cough, shortness of breath, chest pains and sometimes vomiting and diarrhoea.
  • It is estimated that symptoms can start between two and 14 days after exposure to the infection.
  • The disease is treated by intravenous antibiotics.
  • An estimated 10% of people who contract legionnaires' disease will die from complications arising from infection.
  • Large buildings such as hotels, hospitals and museums are more vulnerable to legionella contamination because they have larger, more complex water supply systems, which can let the contamination spread quickly.
  • The condition is called legionnaires' disease because it was first identified after a mass outbreak at a hotel hosting a convention of the American Legion organisation.

Information from NHS online.

More on this story