Here’s Everything You Need to Know About Legionnaires’ Disease

At Angel Water, we want to protect people from the health hazards of contaminated water. Because of this, we wanted to help raise awareness about America’s most deadly waterborne disease, Legionnaires’ Disease.

In recent months, this disease has made headlines in the Chicago region as outbreaks have been reported at area nursing homes, hotels and hospitals.

These alarming reports beg the question: how can Chicagoans protect themselves from Legionnaires’ Disease? The good news is there are steps people can take to defend themselves.

Read on to learn more about the disease, what causes it, and how to guard your health against its harmful effects.

What is Legionnaires’ Disease?

Legionnaires’ Disease is a waterborne illness caused by the buildup of bacteria called Legionella in water. People most frequently contract the disease by inhaling contaminated water. However, it can also occur when people accidentally get water in their lungs while drinking.

The disease got its name in 1976 after an outbreak occurred at an American Legion convention in Philadelphia, PA. Many of the people attending the conference contracted Legionella pneumonia from the contaminated water in the hotel hosting the conference.

Doctors often misdiagnose the disease as the flu because its symptoms are very similar. The symptoms include cough, fever, and muscle aches.

For this reason, while there are usually between 8,000 and 18,000 cases of the illness diagnosed each year, we suspect that the actual total is a lot higher. Some experts estimate that the number could be as high as 70,000 cases per year!

This begs the question: What could cause so many people to come down with this illness?

Graphic featuring an x-rayed chest with the lung containing Legionella bacteria highlighted

Legionnaires’ Disease occurs when Legionella bacteria gets into the lungs.

 

What Causes Legionnaires’ Disease?

To protect ourselves from Legionella, we must first understand where it comes from. Here are a few potential causes of Legionnaires’ Disease to be aware of:

Old Plumbing

Legionella bacteria thrive in areas where it has plenty of organic material to feed on. One of the most common spots for this is galvanized iron plumbing.

If your home was built before the 1960s, then your water probably runs through those old iron pipes. Most newer homes do not have this type of plumbing as builders now use PVC, pex tubing, or copper.

The problem with old iron pipes is they adhere to organic material in the water. The more the material sticks to the pipes, it creates the ideal environment for Legionella to grow in as it feeds on the material.

Organic Material Buildup in Water Heaters

Old iron pipes aren’t the only places where Legionella loves to grow. Water heaters can also be an ideal environment.

The reason for this is water heaters warm the water to a perfect temperature for bacteria growth. So, if people don’t take precautions, the heater can dispense contaminated water throughout the home.

Fortunately, licensed plumbers can install devices on water heaters to keep bacteria from growing. Homeowners can also protect themselves by regularly recirculating water through their kitchen sink or bathroom sink.

Stagnant Water

Legionella needs time to grow. Therefore, the bacteria are most often found in water that has sat stagnant in plumbing for long periods of time.

There are a couple of common reasons water will sit stagnant in a home: 1) the home has dead-end plumbing or 2) the home has neglected sinks or showers.

A home that has been remodeled will often have dead-end pipes. These are pipes that used to lead somewhere but don’t anymore because of the remodel. Dead-end pipes that extend 18 inches and beyond are especially good incubators for Legionella because they give water plenty of space to stagnate and grow the bacteria.

Water also often stagnates in the pipes that supply water to unused showers or sinks. The water in these pipes has plenty of time to sit and develop Legionella.

Image of a sink in the laundry room of a home

Legionella can often grow in the pipes that supply water to rarely used sinks.

 

How Should Homeowners Protect Their Health?

Clearly, Legionella growth has many alarming causes. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to take control of your water!

Here are five prevention methods we would recommend:

Get Your Water Tested

If you suspect your water could contain Legionella bacteria, then don’t ignore your instincts. It’s better to check to see what’s in your water than go on putting your health at risk!

That’s why we recommend getting your water tested by an EPA accredited water testing company. A thorough water test can determine if your water contains the contaminants that lead to Legionnaires’ Disease.

Getting Legionella testing is crucial because it will help you figure out the next steps you should take to protect the water in your home.

Invest in the Proper Water Filter

One next step you can take if your water tests positive for Legionella is investing in a water filter. A water treatment expert can help you determine the best filter to keep your water free of disease.

Get Your Plumbing Inspected

Another important step you can take is getting your plumbing inspected by a licensed plumber. You should especially do this if you have old galvanized plumbing in your home.

The plumber can inspect your pipes to see if there’s any buildup of organic material. They can also check to see if the water is stagnating in any of your pipes.

The expert can then give recommendations on how to use your plumbing to keep Legionella from growing.

Pay Attention to Your Water Usage

One of the best ways to prevent Legionnaires’ Disease is by being mindful of how you use the water in your home. Are there sinks or showers you rarely use? If so, the stagnant water in those pipes may be putting you at risk.

That’s why we recommend turning on those neglected faucets at least once a week and letting the water run cold for a while. It’s a good idea to run cold water through them since Legionella grows best in warm environments.

Practice Good Health Habits

The unfortunate truth is you can take all the steps listed above and still contract Legionnaires’ Disease. After all, the home isn’t the only place where Legionella can form.

In fact, many of the Legionella outbreaks in the Chicago region occur outside the home. For example, outbreaks have occurred at hospitals and nursing homes with old plumbing in recent years. There was also a case of a fountain in a Chicago hotel infecting people through the mist they inhaled from it. Mist-dispensing “cool zones” at theme parks have also become notorious for causing Legionnaires’ Disease.

For this reason, it’s important to make sure you’re practicing good health habits. We recommend getting plenty of Vitamin C, exercising regularly, and drinking plenty of clean water. And by “plenty” we mean half your weight in ounces each day.

By keeping your body healthy, you will put yourself in a prime position to fight off Legionella if you encounter it while out and about.

Image of woman drinking clean water in her kitchen

One of the best ways to combat Legionnaires’ Disease is by drinking plenty of clean water!

Are You Defending Yourself Against Legionnaires’ Disease?

At Angel Water, we are passionate about protecting your health! So, if you’re concerned you have contaminated water, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us.

Our licensed experts can test your water, inspect your plumbing, and prescribe the proper prevention methods for your situation. We also offer a wide variety of NSF certified water filters that are ideal for preventing Legionnaires’ Disease.

Please give us a call today at 847-382-7800 or message us on Facebook to schedule a free consultation!