Legionnaires’ Disease During Pregnancy

Legionnaires’ Disease has been on the rise since 2017.

In the United States, 2018 was a record-breaking year for the number of people contracting this disease.

Legionnaires is a dangerous disease for anyone but especially dangerous for mamas-to-be as it contains a form of pneumonia which can be harmful for your baby.

In this article, I will talk about what Legionnaires is, how to contract it, how to prevent it, and what extra precautions should be taken as pregnant women.

Legionnaires’ Disease is a severe form of pneumonia that sickens more than 5,000 people in the U.S. each year. It’s caused by the bacteria Legionella pneumophila. It took scientists 6 months after a mysterious outbreak sickened 180 and claimed the lives of 29 people for the discovery to take place.

Legionella is usually found in freshwater settings, including lakes, rivers, and streams. Legionella can also survive in soil but most people don’t contract Legionnaires’ there. Legionella thrives and grows in warm water. It often spreads through a building’s contaminated water system or in stagnant warm water like hot tubs and pipes. In the wintertime with the increased use of hot water and humidity in buildings and house pipes Legionnaires can flourish.

It’s actually an airborne disease. The bacterium is so tiny that it can hitch a ride inside tiny water droplets such as mist and water vapor. You can then inhale those droplets, such as in the steam from a sauna or hot tub, and from there the bacterium makes its way into your lungs.

Hot tubs, air conditioning units, and mist sprayers at grocery stores are prime breeding grounds for legionella if they’re not properly maintained. Legionnaires’ can thrive on cruise ships and in swimming pools and in gyms as well as multiply in public water fountains.

If you’re exposed to legionella, it usually takes 2- 10 days for the disease to take hold.

The disease often seems like the flu as the first symptoms mimic flu-like symptoms with chills, headaches, and fevers.

By the second or third day, the disease would have fully settled in. A cough and having a hard time breathing along with nausea, chest pain, and vomiting are clear indicators of Legionnaires Disease.

Legionnaires’ Disease can be life-threatening without treatment; if you or a loved one has any suspicions about contaminated water and feeling ill, it is important to go to the hospital immediately. In order to be diagnosed, you would need a chest X-ray or blood test.

If you are frightened of catching Legionnaire’s Disease while pregnant, take a deep breath. It is the most important to engage in preventative measures by ensuring your house or apartment’s pipes are clean and your drinking water is clean as well.

However, infection during pregnancy is not ideal in general and, pneumonia can have adverse effects for mother and child.

There were two known cases of Legionnaires’ disease in pregnant mothers in which antibiotic therapy was curative for the mothers, and the two babies that were subsequently delivered were healthy.

Don’t worry, fetal death due to Legionnaires’ disease is extremely rare.

Some infections such as rubella (German measles), measles, cytomegalovirus infection, and bacterial meningitis are causally linked to fetal defects and adverse effects long-term for the child (e.g. deafness, mental retardation) but this has not been the case for Legionnaires’ disease.

Visiting the Center for Disease Control’s checklist and toolkit for the prevention of Legionnaires in the home is very useful as well. https://www.cdc.gov/legionella/wmp/toolkit/index.html

If you have a pool and hot tub, make sure to have the right disinfectant and PH levels, because high water temperatures make it hard to maintain the disinfectant levels needed to kill germs like Legionella.

Shoshi S.
Shoshi is a graduate from Stern College for Women in New York City. Her areas of interest include policy, non-profit organizations, and administration. During winter 2018, she was a White House intern. Shoshi has also interned at the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles and at Save the Children in New York. As a millennial, Shoshi brings a young and fresh perspective to the worlds of pregnancy and lactation.

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