RI seeing a spike in Legionnaires’ disease this summer; cause remains unknown

Health

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) ─ State health officials are expressing concern over an uptick in reported cases of Legionnaires’ disease this summer.

The Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) reports that, between 2014 and 2020, was an average of 10 cases during the months of June and July each year.

But this year, there have been 30 cases of Legionnaires’, 29 of which were reported last week alone.

Health officials said of the 30 people infected, 28 have been hospitalized, and so far, there has been no common source of exposure identified.

Legionnaires’ disease is a lung infection that spreads by breathing in droplets of water, and there is an increased risk of infection for the elderly and those with weakened immune systems or underlying lung conditions.

“We know that Legionella bacteria grow best in complex water systems that are not well maintained,” RIDOH Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott said. “When this water becomes aerosolized in small droplets, such as in a cooling tower, shower or decorative fountain, people can accidentally breathe in the contaminated water. This is of particular concern now as some buildings’ water systems have been offline for a prolonged period due to the COVID-19 pandemic and are just now returning to service.”

Health officials said anyone infected with Legionnaires’ usually begin experiencing symptoms two to 10 days after breathing in the bacteria. Those symptoms can include cough, shortness of breath, fever, muscle aches, and headaches.

Health officials report that, while most people who contract the disease will need to be admitted to the hospital, they typically make a full recovery, especially if the disease is caught early.

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