A deadly outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease, a rare but often fatal infection caused by a water-borne bacteria, has struck Quebec. Killing eight people and infecting over 100 more, the outbreak caught Canadian health officials by surprise. Now, they’re struggling to contain what has been labeled the deadliest Legionnaires’ outbreak in 25 years. But because the disease is so rare, few people know much about it. Here’s what you need to know.
Caused by the Legionella bacteria, Legionnaires’ disease is a very serious form of pneumonia that occurs when the bacteria is inhaled. Unlike a flu or other communicable disease, it’s not contagious between people–however, that can make it even more difficult to contain because, once the bacteria is airborne, it can infect anyone.
In the case of Quebec’s outbreak, the bacteria has been traced back to cooling towers. And while Canadian health officials have disinfected the towers, they’re cautioning that there may still be airborne bacteria and further infections. The first reported case in this outbreak was in mid-July–but because the towers were just disinfected, it’s likely that there are individuals who are currently incubating the disease. Because, in an added challenge to containing the outbreak, symptoms of Legionnaires’ don’t usually present for two weeks after exposure.
Symptoms of Legionnaires’ disease are pretty standard flu-like ailments. They include chills, muscle aches, headache, and fever to begin with. After a few days, more intense symptoms develop, like a fatigue, loss of appetite, chest pain, confusion, and a cough which often has mucus or even blood. Anyone with these symptoms is urged to seek medical attention, particularly if they live in or have been to Quebec since July.
This isn’t Canada’s first battle with this deadly bacteria. Legislation to update health mandates regarding the sanitation of commercial ventilation and cooling systems has been stalled since a 1996 outbreak, according to the Calgary Herald. But, promised Canadian Health Minster Yves Bolduc, new regulations would be put into place starting immediately.
Image via CDC/Wikimedia Commons