Legionnaires’ Cases Surge as Buildings Reopen After COVID-19 Closures [Update]

City, county, and state health departments across the country are reporting surges of Legionnaires’ disease cases as buildings reopen after COVID-19 closures. Legionnaires’ disease is a severe, often fatal form of pneumonia that develops when people breathe in water vapor that has been contaminated with Legionella bacteria.

Symptoms of Legionnaires’ disease, which include fever, cough, headache, shortness of breath, and muscle aches, usually develop within two to 14 days of exposure. Former smokers, people over 50, and people with compromised immune systems are at the highest risk of contracting Legionnaires’ disease. Most Legionnaires’ patients require treatment in a hospital setting. About 10 percent of all cases are fatal.

Although Legionella bacteria exist in nature, they grow best in man-made structures, particularly the complex plumbing and air conditioning systems of large buildings. Especially if the water has been stagnant.

Previous outbreaks have been linked to hot tubs, whirlpools, swimming pools, fountains, and cooling towers. Because of the known risk Legionella poses, it is an industry standard for companies that manage large buildings such as office towers, hotels, health care facilities, and apartment complexes to have water management programs that include Legionella mitigation.

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City, county, and state health departments nationwide reporting sharp increases in Legionnaires’ disease cases are citing the likely cause as building reopenings after COVID-19 closures.

Harlem Legionnaires Outbreak

An August 2021 Legionnaires’ disease outbreak in Central Harlem has sickened nine all of whom have been hospitalized.

Legionnaires’ Disease Outbreak on Duke University Campus

A Legionnaires’ disease outbreak on the Duke University campus sickened 84 attendees of the K Academy basketball camp for adults held August 11-15. Duke personnel have determined that the source of the exposure was in the training room of the Schwartz-Butters Building. Other parts of that building were not impacted by the outbreak. No Duke University athletes were sickened.

Chicago Legionnaires’ Disease Cases Triple

During the first three weeks of July, Legionnaires’ disease cases in the city of Chicago were triple the average for the same period in previous years, according to the Chicago Department of Public Health. From July  1-21, 49 cases of Legionnaires’ disease were reported in Chicago, compared with 16 during that same period in 2020 and 13 cases for those same three weeks in 2019.

Fifteen of the 49 people with confirmed cases were admitted to intensive care units at area hospitals. Two people died. A common source for these infections has not yet been identified.

“This is a reminder to keep your water systems flushed and clean. Those with risk factors should seek care early if they develop symptoms, and clinicians should do appropriate testing and treat empirically,” said Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Allison Arwady, M.D.

50 Percent Increase in Rhode Island Legionnaires’ Disease Cases

During a typical summer, the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) will receive reports of about 10 Legionnaires’ disease cases each month. But this year, the total for June and July is 30 cases, 28 of whom required hospitalization.

Twenty-three of the cases were reported from Providence County and the rest were from Kent, Newport, and Washington counties, Annemarie Beardsworth, RIDOH Provider and Internal Communications told Johnston Sunrise.

Essex County New Jersey Legionnaires Disease Cluster

A Legionnaires’ disease cluster in Essex County, NJ includes eight people who live in or have recently visited the county, according to the state health department.  Health officials are still working to determine if there is a common source.

Legionnaires’ Disease Cases in Michigan Up 569 Percent

During the first two weeks of July, 107 cases of Legionnaires’ disease had been reported from 25 Michigan counties, according to the  Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS). That total is a 569 percent increase for the same period in 2020 and a 161 percent increase from 2019 totals.

The confirmed cases have been reported from Wayne County (19), Oakland County (17) Macomb County (15), and the City of Detroit (17). No common sources have been identified.

Michigan health officials say risk factors for exposure to Legionella bacteria include:

  • Recent travel with an overnight stay at a hotel
  • A recent hospital stay
  • Exposure to hot tubs
  • Exposure to buildings where the plumbing has had recent repairs or maintenance work

Legionnaires disease, illustration of lung infection


Legionnaires’ Disease Outbreak at Ramada by Wyndham Albert Lea, MN
At Rosemont Court Legionnaires’ Persists After Outbreak, Mitigation Efforts

Experienced Legionnaires’ Disease Lawyers

Our Legionnaires’ disease lawyers represent people nationwide who have been sickened by contaminated water and the families of those who have suffered the wrongful death of a loved one.  If you or a loved one developed Legionnaires’ disease, our legal team can help. For a free consultation, please fill out the form below, call 1-888-377-8900, or text 612-261-0856.

We are not paid unless you win. Submitting this form does not create an attorney-client relationship.

This post was originally published on August 3, 2021.

UPDATE: This post was updated on August 23 to include information on outbreaks in Central Harlem and on the campus of Duke University.




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