Legionnaires’ Disease

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Philadelphia has a long and unfortunate history with Legionnaires’ Disease, which is also known as legionellosis: the condition is named for an outbreak that happened at an American Legion convention in 1976.

A type of severe pneumonia, Legionnaires’ Disease is an infection of Legionella bacteria in the lungs – a bacterium that also got its name from the outbreak in Philadelphia. The condition can be fatal, especially if it was acquired in the hospital.

There are concrete ways to prevent Legionnaires’ Disease, and hospitals should be expected to take those steps. If they fail to do so and you or a loved one gets diagnosed with a hospital-acquired case of Legionnaires’ Disease, you deserve to be compensated for what you have been put through. The medical malpractice and personal injury lawyers at Gilman & Bedigian can help make that happen and hold the hospital accountable for their poor conduct and lack of safety measures.

Legionnaires’ Disease

Legionnaires’ Disease is a lung infection that fills the lungs with fluid much like a case of pneumonia. Unlike pneumonia, though, Legionnaires’ Disease involves an infection of Legionella bacteria, which spreads inside the lungs.

Legionella is a kind of bacteria that is naturally occurring in water, especially standing water. People get lung infections of Legionella when they inhale water vapor that has been contaminated with the bacteria. Areas with long-term standing water, like reservoirs or lakes, are often the source for Legionella bacteria. However, water-based heating or cooling systems in hospitals or other buildings can also become infected with Legionella-laden water.

Not everyone who is exposed to Legionella will develop a case of Legionnaires’ Disease. In fact, scientists think that the vast majority of people are immune to an infection of Legionella or have immune systems that are strong enough to combat relatively concentrated doses of the bacteria.

Those that do develop Legionnaires’ Disease, however, often face a difficult recovery process, because the bacteria attacks white blood cells inside the lungs and spreads rapidly. Around 10% of people with the condition die from it.

The prognosis is far worse for people who acquire Legionnaires’ Disease in the hospital. Patients often come in with weakened immune systems that are already strained from dealing with another medical condition and a constant barrage of bacteria from the hospital setting. An infection of Legionella can be more than the immune system can handle, leaving it unable to protect vulnerable patients from a severe case of Legionnaires’ Disease.

One study went so far to find that hospital-acquired Legionnaires’ Disease had a fatality rate as high as 28%.

Symptoms of Legionnaires’ Disease

The symptoms of Legionnaires’ Disease are similar to a bad case of pneumonia. Most people experience issues like:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Chills
  • Muscle pain and fatigue
  • Chest pain
  • Coughing, which can produce phlegm or even blood
  • Loss of appetite
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Confusion
  • Impaired cognition or coordination
  • Low heart rate

These symptoms usually continue for around a week. Doctors often prescribe antibiotics to treat Legionnaires’ Disease.

Causes of Legionnaires’ Disease

The Legionella bacteria forms naturally in water and becomes a problem whenever it is inhaled and enters the lungs. This makes mist, water vapor, or humidity prime suspects for a case of Legionnaires’ Disease.

In the hospital, the water distribution system is a common source of Legionella infections, especially if it is not regularly or adequately sterilized. However, cooling vents that are not disinfected or have become moldy are also common sources of Legionnaires’ Disease.

Risk Factors for Legionnaires’ Disease

People who have the following medical issues or traits can be at especially high risk for developing a case of hospital-acquired Legionnaires’ Disease:

  • A history as a smoker
  • People over the age of 55
  • Weakened immune system from prior medical issues or from medication
  • Chronic lung disease, like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or emphysema

Legionnaires’ Disease in Philadelphia

Philadelphia has an especially bad history when it comes to Legionnaires’ Disease. Before 1976, Legionnaires’ Disease was not a recognized medical condition.

In July of that year, over 2,000 members of the American Legion – an organization of U.S. military veterans – held a convention at the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel in Philadelphia. A huge portion of the Legionnaires in attendance was elderly. A few days after the convention ended, dozens of those in attendance got sick, with many of them dying from what was suspected to be a heart attack.

Medical investigators descended on the hotel to find the cause of the outbreak. It took them six months to discover a new type of bacterium, Legionella, breeding in the cooling tower of the hotel’s air conditioning system, which had been running full blast during the July convention.

By that time, there had been 182 cases of what would later be called Legionnaires’ Disease. Twenty-nine of the people who were infected in the Philadelphia hospital died.

What to Do If You Think You Have Developed Legionnaires’ Disease at a Philadelphia Hospital

If you or a loved one went to a Philadelphia hospital and think you have developed a case of Legionnaires’ Disease, getting an independent medical opinion is important because hospital doctors might try to cover up a case of medical malpractice that contributed to your condition.

If you do get a second medical opinion and it turns out that it is a case of Legionnaires’ Disease, it can be wise to turn to a lawyer, next. The recovery process for hospital-acquired Legionnaires’ Disease can be lengthy and difficult. It can also be costly.

There is no reason why you should be the one to foot the bill for the costs of your recovery, and there is no reason why the hospital should not be held accountable for the poor conduct they took that led to your condition. The lawyers at Gilman & Bedigian can help on both fronts by advocating on your behalf and showing that it was a decision or oversight by the hospital that caused your condition.

Contact us online to get started on your case.

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