National Increase In cases Of Legionnaires' Disease

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Legionnaires' Disease

Health Protection Agency is investigating an increase in the reported number of cases of Legionnaires' disease.

A total of 163 cases of Legionnaires' disease were reported in the first half of the year, between January and June 2007, compared with 120 cases the year before (January to June 2006), and 103 cases in the same period in 2005.


There has been an increase in reported cases in all regions of England and Wales over the last few years. Reports include cases acquired both in the UK and overseas. 66% of all reported cases this year were contracted in the UK , 34% were associated with travel abroad.

Dr Carol Joseph, one of the Agency's leading Legionella experts, who is monitoring the situation said "The higher number of cases being detected over the past few years is likely to be due to increased awareness of the disease which means more cases are being reported, and also with the wider use of rapid testing methods to identify the disease. We would expect to see a rise in cases of Legionnaires' disease at this time of year, and to see this continue through to the autumn, as there is a seasonal rise during the warmer months.

"The continued rise in cases reflects an increase in single cases and the detection of a few small clusters around the country. Although we currently don't have any evidence to link the individual cases in these clusters to any common source of exposure, we are continuing to look for any potential links. We are also monitoring the national picture to ensure that any possible links between isolated or clustered cases are not missed."

Legionnaires' disease is caused by a type of bacterium that is commonly found in the environment. It causes disease when it is spread through the air from a water source and inhaled as an aerosol, which can give rise to an infection in the lungs. Most people exposed to Legionella do not become ill and it cannot be spread from person to person. Contaminated water sources are the most likely source of infection. Legionnaires' disease can affect people of all ages but it mainly affects those over 50 years of age and tends to affect men more than women.

The symptoms of Legionnaires' disease include a 'flu-like' illness with muscle aches, tiredness, headaches, dry cough and fever, leading on to pneumonia. Sometimes diarrhoea occurs and confusion may develop. It can be most effectively treated with antibiotics when diagnosed early.