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Legionnaires’ disease is a disease caused by a bacterium called Legionella. Legionnaires’ disease is the most frequent form of legionellosis and the most serious, because it causes an acute lung infection (pneumonia)
Sources of infection
Legionella bacteria are very widespread in the environment. They occur naturally in fresh water (lakes, rivers, streams) and wet soils. However, they mostly occur in a variety of artificial water sources, especially hot water.
The main sources of infection are the following:
- Drinking water distribution systems (especially hot water): hot water heaters, showerheads and sink faucets
- Water cooling towers
- Spas, hot tubs, whirlpools and Jacuzzis
- Home humidifiers
- Respiratory treatment equipment (e.g. CPAP)
Legionnaires’ disease is not a common disease and, for people in good health, the risks of getting it are quite low. People can get the disease when they breathe in fine water droplets suspended in air contaminated with the Legionella bacteria. Legionnaires' disease does not spread from person to person.
People can be exposed to the bacteria in the community (e.g. at home), at work (e.g. jobs related to maintenance of air conditioning systems), on trips, or in healthcare settings (e.g. inhalation therapy equipment, humidifiers).
People at risk
Some people are more likely to develop the infection. Most often, those affected are:
- People aged over 50
- Heavy drinkers
- People with chronic diseases (e.g. kidney, lung or heart disease, diabetes)
- People with weakened immune systems (e.g. cancer, cancer treatment, transplant
- People with recent surgery
Symptoms of Legionnaires’ disease (pneumonia caused by the legionella bacteria) usually begin 2 to 14 days following exposure to the bacteria, and up 20 days in people with weakened immune systems.
The most common symptoms associated with legionellosis are:
- High fever
- Muscle pain
- Loss of appetite
The diagnosis is made on the basis of lab tests. Legionellosis can be treated with antibiotics.
When to Consult
Legionnaires' disease is a serious illness that typically requires hospitalization. In general, the mortality rate is one to two out of every ten people infected. However, the proportion can increase with age or presence of chronic illnesses, and in hospitalized patients.
Protection and prevention
- Maintain the temperature of your hot water heater at a minimum of 60 °C.
- Reduce the risks of infection further through proper maintenance of devices that cause water droplets to be sprayed into the air (e.g. showerheads, whirlpool baths, spas, humidifiers), in accordance with the manufacturer's instructions or the advice of a qualified professional.
In large buildings
- Adopt good operating and maintenance practices (e.g. in hotels) and good infection control policies and guidelines (e.g. in hospitals).
See the regulation on maintenance of water cooling towers. (In french)
Help and Resources
In case of symptoms consistent with legionellosis, contact Info-Santé au 811 or see a doctor.
- Legionellosis, Gouvernement du Québec
- Legionnaires’ disease and Pontiac fever, Health Canada
- Safety Data Sheet on Legionella pneumophila, Public Health Agency of Canada
- Legionellosis Resource Site, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- Water tower maintenance, Régie du Bâtiment du Québec (in French)
People at Risk
Dernière mise à jour le : 2020.07.03