General Practice 2022

Infecção by Legionella: symptoms, transmissionão and treatment

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Infecção by Legionella: symptoms, transmissionão and treatment
Infecção by Legionella: symptoms, transmissionão and treatment

Legionella pneumophilia is a bacteria that can be found in standing water and in hot, humid environments such as bathtubs and air conditioners. When inhaled, this bacterium manages to remain and develop in the respiratory system, leading to the development of the disease "legionellosis", also known as legionnaires' disease.

Infection with Legionella pneumophilia leads to respiratory symptoms such as difficulty breathing, shortness of breath and chest pain. It is important that infection by this bacterium is identified and treated according to the guidance of the pulmonologist or general practitioner so that life-threatening complications are avoided.

Treatment for legionellosis should be done with antibiotics according to the severity of the symptoms, and hospitalization and the use of oxygen masks may be necessary.

Symptoms of Legionella Infection

Legionella infection leads to the development of mild pneumonia and symptoms can appear up to 10 days after contact with the bacteria, the main ones being:

  • Chest pain;
  • High fever;
  • Dry cough, but may contain blood;
  • Difficulty breathing and shortness of breath;
  • Chills;
  • Disease;
  • Headache;
  • Vomiting, abdominal pain and diarrhea.

If the presence of these symptoms is verified, it is important that the person consult a pulmonologist, or a general practitioner, to confirm the diagnosis and initiate the appropriate treatment, avoiding the development of serious complications, such as respiratory failure.

How to confirm the diagnosis

The diagnosis of Legionella infection is usually made by observing the signs and symptoms, as well as evaluating the result of the blood count, analysis of respiratory secretions and chest X-ray.

How to catch Legionella

Legionella pneumophilia grows easily in hot and humid environments and therefore can be found in standing water (especially if there is algae or moss), dirty water tanks, puddles, rivers, lakes, damp soils, cooling systems, nebulizers, air humidifiers, saunas, spas or air conditioning filters.

Contamination by this bacteria happens when you have contact with any of these environments, although the most common form of contamination is the inhalation of dust particles released into the air when the air conditioner, whose filter is not cleaned periodically, is on. Although inhalation is the most common form of contamination, the bacteria can also be acquired by swimming in contaminated lakes and pools.

This type of infection can happen to anyone, however it is more common in older people, smokers and/or who have a weakened immune system due to chronic diseases such as pulmonary emphysema, asthma, diabetes or liver failure, for example.

How the treatment is done

Treatment of infection by Legionella pneumophilia may vary according to the severity of the symptoms presented by the person, and can be done in the hospital and be indicated by the doctor the use of antibiotics, administration of serum directly into the vein and use of a mask of oxygen to help the person breathe.

The antibiotics that may be indicated by the doctor are Ciprofloxacin, Azithromycin, Levofloxacin and Erythromycin, and their use may be indicated for 7 to 10 days.

The length of hospital stay varies according to the patient's recovery. In some cases the disease can be cured in 10 days, but in the most serious cases, which occurs when the patient is old, smoker or has other respiratory diseases and the weakened immune system, it can take longer to be cured.

How to prevent Legionella infection

Legionella pneumophilia infection can be serious and, therefore, it is important to take some precautions to avoid contamination, being recommended:

  • Do not bathe or shower with very hot water, especially in public places such as gyms or hotels;
  • Do not use saunas, hot tubs or jacuzzis that are not cleaned for a long time;
  • Take a bath by turning the tap slightly to lower the water pressure;
  • Clean the filters and air conditioning trays with water and chlorine every 6 months;
  • Immerse the shower in a mixture of chlorinated water to disinfect.

These precautions are especially indicated in case of an epidemic by Legionella, however, it is important to avoid all types of standing water and to have the habit of cleaning the showers with chlorine regularly.

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