Health article

Legionella Tests: MedlinePlus Medical Test

What are Legionella tests?

Legionella is a type of bacteria that can cause a severe form of pneumonia known as Legionnaires’ disease. Legionella tests look for these bacteria in urine, sputum, or blood. Legionnaires’ disease got its name in 1976 after a group of people attending an American Legion convention became ill with pneumonia.

Legionella bacteria can also cause a milder, flu-like illness called Pontiac fever. Together, Legionnaires’ disease and Pontiac fever are known as legionellosis.

Legionella bacteria are found naturally in freshwater environments. But the bacteria can make people sick when it grows and spreads in man-made water systems. These include plumbing systems of large buildings, including hotels, hospitals, nursing homes, and cruise ships. The bacteria may then contaminate water sources, such as hot tubs, fountains, and air-conditioning systems.

Legionellosis infections happen when people breathe in mist or small drops of water that contain the bacteria. The bacteria do not spread from person to person. But a disease outbreak can occur when many people are exposed to the same contaminated water source.

Not everyone who is exposed to Legionella bacteria will get sick. You are more likely to develop an infection you are:

  • Over the age of 50
  • A current or former smoker
  • Have a chronic disease such as diabetes or kidney failure
  • Have a weakened immune system due to a disease such as HIV/AIDS or cancer, or are taking medicines that suppress the immune system

While Pontiac fever usually clears up on its own, Legionnaires’ disease can be fatal if not treated. Most people will recover if promptly treated with antibiotics.

Other names: Legionnaires’ disease testing, Legionellosis testing

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