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Are We Underestimating the Threat of Legionella?


Otto Schwake, PhD, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Virginia Tech, lead researcher from the Flint Water Study team, explains the danger Legionella poses.

 Interview Transcript (slightly modified for readability)

“I very strongly believe that Legionella, the bacteria in general, and more specifically, the disease it causes, Legionellosis, is a major public health concern that is experiencing low awareness and low efforts to deal with [it].
Just to give you an example, give an idea of how major it is, Legionella cause more drinking-related outbreaks in America and other developed countries than all other bacteria, viruses, parasites, fungi, and chemicals combined, so it’s a major public health burden.
Unlike most other water-borne pathogens, Legionella infections can be deadly, and expensive. An average hospital stay, hospital-associated costs for Legionnaires infection run in the tens of thousands of dollars. When you look at that combined with the estimated 18,000 or so cases per year in America that we predict low-end, it really is a major public health burden. Something that really kicks it up a notch is the fact that, technically, this is something that is highly preventable if we had more information and better practices for monitoring and treating the presence of Legionella in our drinking systems.”
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Big advances in treatment can't make up for an inability to stop new infections, which number 5,000 per day worldwide.