State epidemiologist, Patricia Quinlisk, says the Legionella bacteria recently found in Iowa City’s Veteran’s Administration hospital is common in most water supplies and throughout the environment. The bacteria can lead to a type of pneumonia known as Legionaire’s Disease. Doctor Quinlisk says she’s not worried about the discovery. “In fact, we tell people not to look for it. Because if you look for it hard enough, you’re going to find it. It’s basically, probably in the water of my house and in the water of your house, etcetera,” she says.
Dr. Quinlisk says there’s no reason to worry about the bacteria being around. “Ninety-nine-point-nine-percent of the time when it’s out there it’s just living in our environment not causing anybody any harm. And that’s why we tell people don’t really test for this bacteria unless you have a reason why you need to test,” Quinlisk says. “And there are some places where they do do routine testing, for example, hospitals, but I would not anybody to test their own water in their house or places like that because there’s no reason to.”
Quinlisk says most people have immune system resistance. “Once in a while when it gets into the lungs of a susceptible person, it can actually cause that person to have a pneumonia,” according to Quinlisk. Quinlisk says the bacteria is spread by breathing a water mist into the respiratory system, and not from drinking the water.
“What I would tell people to do in Iowa if they wanted to reduce their risk of getting Legionella, we know that hot tubs are one of the highest risks. And just make sure that your hot tub in good condition. Make sure that you keep it clean. Make sure you use the right kind of chlorine or other disinfectant system,” Quinlisk says, “and that’s probably going to lower your risk of getting Legionella more than anything else you do.”
Quinlisk says persons with compromised immune systems are at greatest risk for pneumonia caused by the bacteria. The bacteria first gained attention from an outbreak among those attending a convention of the American Legion in Philadelphia in 1976. The cooling system in the hotel they were staying in caused the outbreak of Legionaire’s Disease.