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Disease Author: Staff Editor Last Updated: Sep 7, 2017 - 10:06:33 PM

Legionellosis: The Infectious Story of Pontiac Fever and Legionnaire's Disease

By Staff Editor
Jan 8, 2016 - 7:51:16 AM

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( - No one wants to die. At least, no one wants to think about dying. It just hangs out there in the back of your mind - waiting for you. But, we do die, and when we do, it's never pretty. It just is.

That's what makes the story of Pontiac Fever and Legionnaires Disease so tragic. You've probably never had it because because, if you had, you'd be dead right now - or at least, there's a high probability you'd be dead right now.

Where The Heck Did It Come From?

Believe it or not, this special form of pneumonia can be traced all the way back to an American Legion convention in 1976. The bacteria that causes it - Legionella pneumophila - is found in both potable and nonpotable water systems.

And, it's not uncommon for the condition to be so bad that you need to be hospitalized. You might even suffer long-term consequences from it and a permanent reduction in your quality of life. A study of outbreak survivors has shown that some symptoms just never go away. For example, 75 percent of people who've had it are always tired, 66 percent have permanent neurological symptoms, and 63 percent suffer permanent neuromuscular symptoms months after catching it.

Now, back to the history - the name comes from where the attendees who caught it were when they caught it.

They were attending an American Legion convention in Philadelphia in July of 1976.

As you might guess, they were all veterans. Ray Brennan, Frank Aveni, and Charles Seidel all fell ill shortly after the meeting, had chest pains, high fever, and then died shortly after. They spent time traversing the city, eating in restaurants, and went home using different forms of transportation. Kind of scary, right?

For many Americans, this was the first time they'd ever heard of the Centers For Disease Control, which (at that time) was an obscure little government organization that would go on to try to figure out what was killing the Legionnaires at the meeting.

The CDC went on a mission to figure out how these men had died, and why. They crisscrossed the state and interviewed everyone from friends and family members. They were trying to find a common link that would explain what had happened.

After months of searching, they still had nothing solid to go on.

Then, it happened.

A CDC microbiologist took a second look at some red sausage-shaped bacteria and figured out that these were the bacteria they were looking for.

What had happened was that the bacteria had grown in the water of the hotel's cooling tower. It had then spread through the air as the water evaporated.

Can You Catch It Today?

Oh yes, you can. In fact, many people do. In fact, every year, about 10,000 to 18,000 people are infected in the U.S. Most people who get sick, do so because they are breathing it in, through public water systems' cooling towers or HVAC systems, air conditioning units, or some other air circulation and ventilation system where the bacteria becomes airborne.

How Do You Know If You've Got It?

You'll know. It's a severe case of pneumonia. Take the more recent case discovered in New York City. A second outbreak that occurred in the Bronx happened because several cooling towers in the Morris Park area had become a breeding ground for the bacteria.

And, if you had been involved in that outbreak, you'd have wanted an attorney with specific experience handling Legionnaires' disease cases to help you because in most cases, these bacteria are spread through commercial systems. Meaning, businesses or government organizations aren't cleaning and disinfecting their systems or they're not following procedures which would reduce or eliminate the bacteria.

Just this year, in September, at least 10 more people in western Illinois died from Legionnaires because of contaminated water and air conditioning systems at a state veteran's home.


The prognosis isn't good unless you're treated right away with antibiotics at the onset of the pneumonia. If you are - good news. You'll live. If not, you could die.


Treatment is generally antibiotics. Specifically, macrolides and quinolones. Other antibiotics that are effective include tetracycline, doxycycline, and minocycline.

Your doctor will have to diagnose you and, of course, prescribe the antibiotics. But, you may end up in the hospital or in quarantine until you can be administered the drugs. Since it's not highly contagious, you don't have to worry about spreading it to others. But, you will want to be treated for it as soon as possible.

Johnny Denenea has practiced law for over 25 years. He is a founding partner of Shearman-Denenea, LLC, which is based in New Orleans. As a trial lawyer, Johnny has represented victims of accidents and medical malpractice. He has also handled infectious disease cases, including several Legionnaires lawsuits, including this case covered in the news. He has also been retained as a consultant in cases involved in legionnaires disease. He is member of the American Bar Association, Federal Bar Association, American Association for Justice, the Pound Civil Justice Institute, American Judicature Society, the Thomas More Inn of Court, the Louisiana Bar Association, the Louisiana Association for Justice (where he serves on the Board of Governors, and Chairs the Technology Section). Johnny enthusiastically supports Boys Hope/Girls Hope; Partnership for Youth Development; and Surfers Healing a children's autism support organization.


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