Legionella are gram negative bacilli. They are intracellular organisms.
Legionella bacteria cause 2 distinct clinical conditions:
- Legionnaires disease, a severe multisystem disease which includes pneumonia
- Pontiac fever, a self-limiting flu-like illness without pneumonia
The natural environment for legionella is water, and they multiple at temperatures between 25 and 42C, with 35C being their optimal temperature meaning that hot water systems, whirlpools etc are ideal breeding grounds. Many outbreaks have also been associated with air-conditioning systems or with travel, especially cruise ships.
Symptoms of Legionnaire disease include
- Dry cough
- Nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain
The incubation period is 2 to 18 days.
Legionnaire disease is also associated with
- Deranged LFTs
Diagnosis may be by
- Urinary antigen
- Sputum culture
Most patients have abnormal CXR at presentation, most commonly patchy basal consolidation. Up to 30% have pleural effusions.
Treatment is with antibiotics with a high intracellular concenration, such as azithromycin, clarithromycin, fluroquinolone or rifampacin. Note that Legionnaires disease is a notifiable disease.