Legionnaires’ Disease: Think Twice About That Hot Tub

Did you know that hot tubs are one of the more common sources of Legionnaires’ disease?

About 1 out of every 10 cases of Legionnaires’ disease is fatal, according to the CDC.

Recently this March, Michigan health officials have found a 10th fatal case of Legionnaires’ disease in the Flint area amid an outbreak some experts have linked to the Flint city’s water crisis. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services announced recently the 88 cases of the respiratory disease between June 2014 and November 2015 alone- and 10 of those were fatal, according to the Associated Press (AP).

Legionnaire’s disease comes from areas where there is water mist, water droplets, or vapor, such as that found in cooling towers (air-conditioning units for large buildings), hot tubs, hot water tanks, large plumbing systems, and decorative fountains, according to the CDC.

What exactly is Legionnaire’s disease?

Legionnaires’ disease is a type of bacterial pneumonia that was first identified after an outbreak at an American Legion convention in Philadelphia in 1976. Since then, up to 18,000 cases have been documented annually in the United States, according to the CDC.

Potential sources of Legionnaires’ disease you should be aware of

Hot tubs, steam rooms, cooling towers, fountains and plumbing systems that are not cleaned and disinfected properly can easily become contaminated with Legionella bacteria. It can even be found in the misters at grocery store produce departments.

Is Legionnaire’s disease contagious?

No, but although it can’t spread from one person to another, an individual can get infected by simply breathing the steam or mist from a contaminated source.

When can I tell I’ve been infected with Legionnaire’s disease?

Legionnaires’ disease develops 2-10 days after exposure to the bacteria.

Early symptoms include

  • muscle aches
  • lack of appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Headaches

Other symptoms of Legionnaire’s disease

As the disease progresses, a dry, hacking cough develops and may produce mucus and phlegm.

In about a third of Legionnaires’ disease cases, there will be blood coughed up in the phlegm and found in saliva. Half of the people who develop Legionnaires’ disease suffer a shortness of breath. A third of cases commonly experience chest aches.

Severe Symptoms of Legionnaire’s disease

The fevers can reach 104 °F (40 °C) in many cases, and may be accompanied by a dangerously decreased heart rate.


Although the pneumonia affects the lungs, Legionnaires’ disease is accompanied by symptoms that affect other areas of the body.

About half the victims experience diarrhea and a quarter have nausea and vomiting and abdominal pain.

In about 10% of cases, acute renal failure and scanty urine production accompany the disease. Changes in mental status, such as disorientation, confusion, and hallucinations, also occur in about a quarter of cases.


Most cases show improvement within 12 hours to 2 days of your medical practitioner starting you on antibiotics. In severe cases with added complications, antibiotic therapy may be joined by respiratory support. If renal failure occurs, dialysis is required until renal function is recovered, according to the CDC.

Talk to your doctor the minute to suspect the disease

Because the symptoms of Legionnaires’ disease are similar to those of other types of pneumonia it is of the utmost importance to be tested by your doctor.

“If you experience respiratory symptoms after being exposed to mist or vapor, especially in a public area, it is important to notify your physician and consider being examined for Legionella bacteria. If you do this promptly chances are you will recover successfully”, advises saludmóvil’s Dr. Joseph Mosquera.

Who is at higher risk for legionnaire’s disease?

People at high risk of infection include those who are middle-aged or older, those who smoke, people with chronic lung disease such as emphysema or bronchitis and also people with weakened immune systems, according to the NIH.

If you are regularly exposed to sources at risk for Legionella, make sure you take the right steps to protect you and your family and contact your physician.

You might want to think twice about that public hot tub; hot water systems make it particularly hard to maintain the disinfectant levels needed to kill germs.

Here are some simple steps you can take to prevent Legionnaires Disease.