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Home > Health Topics > Podcasts > Legionnaires' Podcast

Legionnaires' Podcast

November 20, 2008

This is an archival podcast dated November 20, 2008. Another podcast about Legionnaires was posted May 11, 2011.

William Walker, MD
Contra Costa Health Services

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Read more about Legionnaires' Disease.

One of our staff members at the Richmond Health Center was recently diagnosed with Legionnaires disease, a pneumonia-like infection caused by breathing contaminated water vapor.

I'm Dr. William Walker, Director of Contra Costa Health Services and the County Health Officer, and I would like to explain to you what steps we are taking to be sure patients and staff are safe and that the center remains open.

Legionnaires disease is not contagious and not spread person to person. A person gets infected by breathing in a mist or vapor of water contaminated with Legionella bacteria. Although Legionnaires' is a serious disease, it can be successfully treated with antibiotics.

There have been 14 cases of Legionnaires in Contra Costa so far this year. No source has been identified for any of them. Each year, there are about 8,000 to 18,000 people hospitalized with Legionnaires in the United States. Legionella bacteria naturally occurs in the environment, especially in hot water systems such as hot tubs, hot water sinks and cooling towers.

The one Health Services staff member who was diagnosed with Legionnaires disease is being treated and is recovering from the illness.

Our first priority is to ensure the safety of our employees and patients. In cooperation with Cal-OSHA and the state health department, we tested the building's air and water supplies. Preliminary tests indicate that the water in the health center's cooling tower may have contained the bacteria, which is very common in air conditioning systems.

To address this issue, we have disinfected the heating and cooling system and continue to monitor the quality of the water and health of our staff. There have not been any other cases identified, and the health center should be safe for both staff and patients.

I know that the Health Center is old. We have been working for more than a decade to replace it and are hopeful that within a few years, there will be a new health center for West County on the campus of Doctors Medical Center in San Pablo. In the meantime, we will continue to deliver high quality services at the current site.

It is important to remember that most people who are exposed to the Legionella bacteria do not get sick. And most people who do get it, recover with treatment.

Initially, Legionnaires' disease can be hard to diagnose. Early symptoms are similar to the flu and include a high fever, chills and a cough. Some people may even suffer from muscle aches and headaches. The difference between the flu and Legionnaires is that the cough and other symptoms get progressively worse. Physicians must conduct laboratory tests to detect the bacteria in a person's body.

I wish I could assure you that there is absolutely no danger of anyone in Contra Costa being diagnosed with Legionnaire's disease. Of course that isn't possible since it is a bacteria that many people could be exposed to in a variety of settings.

You can find out more information about Legionnaires' disease, symptoms and diagnosis on our website at

Thank you for listening.

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