Flood water raises concerns about Legionnaires' Disease

Memorial Hospital // WSBT 22 photo

People in South Bend are still picking up the pieces after severe flooding last month, and a new concern is coming to light in the aftermath. It's a type of pneumonia that you get from inhaling water vapor called, Legionnaires' Disease. WSBT 22 News got a viewer call today, claiming someone had contracted Legionnaires' Disease while cleaning up indoor flood water.

We checked with local hospitals to see if they've seen cases of the disease. Memorial Hospital said they've seen some cases of Legionnaires' in the past several weeks. Whether or not it's related to flood waters, is unclear.

At the South Bend Clinic, one doctor says it's actually more common than people think. Dr. Gail English says they usually see a few cases a year in elderly or frail people. She said Legionnaire's is a type of pneumonia with no available vaccine. It's a bacteria stemming from a water source. English has some tips on how to prevent the bacteria from ever growing in the first place.

"Some of the take-home messages are to be careful if you have a hot tub at home, keep it clean and sterilized. I have heard you can get it from fountains like decorative fountains, again they should be clean," she said.

English said symptoms include having a cough, fever and feeling very fatigued. She said the symptoms show up quickly when you get it; within three days to a week of exposure. She said people should remember it can't be passed from person to person.

"It doesn't spread within families unless they've also been exposed to that same water source. You would not spread it mother to child or whatever just by coughing or sneezing," she said.

If you are cleaning up flood water, Enlgish recommends wearing a mask, gloves, and boots. If you are experiencing Legionnaires' symptoms, contact a doctor right away. Typically, she says people are hospitalized for several days with IV antibiotics to treat the illness.

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