Legionellosis -- Why the Problem Continues


This year marks the 30 th anniversary of the 1976 American Legion convention of military veterans held in Philadelphia. A mysterious disease outbreak occurred that killed 34 people and debilitated nearly another 200. The media named it Legionnaires’ Disease. In early 1977, the cause of the outbreak had been proven to be a previously unknown waterborne pathogenic bacterium subsequently named Legionella. The bacterium was scientifically proven to have caused widespread endemic pneumonia since 1943 and caused outbreaks as far back as the 1950s.

It became clear that controlling Legionella was a matter of good water treatment and building water system management.However, since 1976, legionellosis (the condition of being infected by Legionella bacteria) has killed, severely debilitated or has been detrimental in the families of millions of people. If the hazard and how to control it have been known for nearly 30 years, why does legionellosis still harm so many people? Legionellosis continues to occur because:

  • Public concern is not proportional to risk
  • Codes of practice and standards are not adequate or not implemented
  • Scientifically based hazard analysis and control is not implemented
  • Commercial conflicts of interest impede good practice.

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