The Alabama Department of Public Health is studying an increase in Legionella pneumonia cases in Florence.
The usual number of cases of Legionella in northwest Alabama is about four cases a year. Because two patients with the disease were reported to the Lauderdale County Health Department during the first week of October, the health department worked with local hospitals and doctors to find other patients with Legionella.
So far, the health department has identified 10 patients with Legionella pneumonia and is looking at five other possible cases.
As part of the process, the health department is working with physicians and hospitals, talking with the patients, and checking for any potential environmental sources of the germ. No new cases of Legionella have been reported since the first week of October, but the health department is still monitoring the situation closely.
Legionella pneumonia is not spread from person to person. Patients get Legionnaire's when they breathe in a mist or vapor containing the bacteria. Most healthy people exposed to the germ do not become sick. Officials said it is rare to have more than one case confirmed within the same time frame.
"Normally we don't get two cases back-to-back, and as a result of that we had already notified the state health department. As a local health department, we continue to consult with the state in making sure that we are getting all of our investigation done and identifying new cases," said Assistant State Health Officer Dr. Karen Landers.
People at a higher risk for getting sick are those who are older than 50, are current or former smokers, have chronic lung problems like COPD, have weak immune systems from cancer, diabetes, or kidney failure, or are on chemotherapy.
Legionella pneumonia is caused by a germ that occurs naturally in the environment. The germ grows best in warm water. Some places where the germ can be found include hot tubs, cooling towers, hot water tanks, large plumbing systems, and decorative fountains.
Symptoms include cough, shortness of breath, high fever, muscle aches and headaches. Symptoms usually begin anywhere from two days to two weeks after being exposed to the bacteria.
Health officials said they have not had any new cases reported since the first week of October.
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