A new and concerning report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicates an alarming increase in Legionnaires’ disease cases nationwide, highlighting a serious gap in how the potentially fatal respiratory illness is managed.
According to the CDC, the total number of Legionnaires’ cases in the United States in 2017 was more than five times greater than in 2000—nearly 7,500 cases in just one year. When considering those who became infected but did not seek medical attention, that figure is likely even higher.
In the wake of the report, we are reminded of the importance of not only proper testing at the first sign of symptoms, but also stopping this severe form of pneumonia at its source, before it gets the chance to infect anyone.
Large public spaces, as we have addressed before, carry the added responsibility of taking proper measures to prevent the spread of Legionella, the bacteria causing Legionnaires' disease. This derives from the increased risks associated with these locations.
Places where large numbers of people come and go every day, such as universities, hospitals, and skyscrapers tend to have more complex water systems, creating greater opportunity for Legionella to grow and be transmitted. In the event the bacteria does circulate through the air, via microscopic water droplets, it has the potential to infect a greater number of people, particularly those at increased risk of contracting the disease—those over the age of 50, smokers, and the immunocompromised.
Despite the inherent risks associated with these spaces and the disturbing spike in reported cases, there remains very little official oversight over such facilities to serve as a framework for Legionella prevention and management.
New York City made history by becoming the first major metropolitan area to enact comprehensive regulations concerning Legionella, with the passage of Local Law 77, followed shortly thereafter by New York State, which passed similar legislation. While these measures were promising steps toward solving the growing Legionnaires’ issue, the remainder of the country lags behind in meaningful legislation, reigniting the discussion for Legionella regulations to be elevated to the national level.
Whether broad regulations come across the desks of elected officials or not, Legionnaires’ disease remains an issue that facility owners and managers must address, for the sake of the public and their reputation.