Missouri adds legionellosis to list of infectious diseases requiring 24-hour reporting

Experts at Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services say improper use of humidifiers; and CPAP machines, used to treat sleep-related breathing disorders, puts people at higher risk of exposure to Legionnaires’ disease as bacteria may grow in the machines that may create water vapor that is inhaled by a person.

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services investigated more than 100 cases of Legionnaires’ disease, a serious lung infection, across Missouri so far this year; five of those who contracted the disease died.

Although most people exposed do not develop illness, approximately 10 to 25% of Legionnaires’ disease cases are fatal. Reports of Legionnaires’ disease are increasing nationally. In response, DHSS strengthened Legionnaires’ disease detection and prevention efforts.

DHSS filed emergency rules to reduce the timeframe for reporting legionellosis from three days to one and introduced new testing methods at the Missouri State Public Health Laboratory.

“The timely diagnosis of legionellosis, and the identification of the water sources from which it arises, is crucial for preventing morbidity and mortality in the larger community,” said Randall Williams, director of DHSS. “We are committed to raising awareness and continuing to work with local health departments and the CDC during outbreaks, and we are excited about the innovative testing that MSPHL has instituted to aid in timely detection of Legionella in water sources.

The MSPHL’s Environ-mental Bacteriology Unit can test water samples for the presence of Legionella pneumophila using the Idexx Legiolert system, states a Health and Senior Services release.

“The Legiolert test method provides sensitive results in seven days that can also be used for further comparison to patient samples to link individual cases with environmental sources,” the release states.

Eighty-nine samples have been tested at the MSPHL for Legionella pneumophila since June 19.

“The MSPHL now provides high-quality testing services to detect Legionella pneumophila in a timely manner,” said Bill Whitmar, director of the state lab. “This service not only protects our communities, but also those who visit our communities.”

DHSS and local public health partners completed more than 50 environmental assessments this year at lodging and health care facilities in Missouri, states the release.

“DHSS has also been working to educate management of these types of facilities on the disease and what proactive measures can be taken to prevent anyone from contracting the disease from their water systems,” the release states.

Legionella can be found naturally in the environment, but generally is not present in sufficient numbers to cause disease. In human-made water systems, like the interior plumbing of large buildings, cooling towers, decorative fountains or hot tubs, Legionella can grow and be transmitted to susceptible people by breathing in small water droplets containing the bacteria. People at higher risk for getting sick include those over age 50, former or current smokers or those with chronic lung diseases, cancer or other underlying illnesses. It is not spread from person to person.

While public health efforts are focused on investigating cases associated with lodging and health care facilities, individuals can take steps to protect themselves at home, states the release.

“Improper CPAP machine use, commonly used to treat sleep-related breathing disorders, is a frequently reported risk factor. You can reduce a risk of exposure by proper maintenance of CPAP machines, humidifiers and other household equipment where bacteria may grow that may create water vapor.”

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.