Written by: Hilary Nardone, Lead Environmental Group Manager
The number of reported cases reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been steadily rising since 2000. Although many cases likely go undiagnosed, health departments across the United States reported nearly 8,500 cases of Legionnaires’ disease (LD) in 2018.1 Data shows the incidence of Legionnaires’ disease peaking in the summer months and early fall.2 In July 2018, a Legionnaires’ disease outbreak in Michigan was partly attributed to warm weather.3
Are Legionella bacteria more prevalent during warm temperatures?
Science says that yes, Legionella bacteria are more prevalent during warm summers. The CDC states that Legionella bacteria grow best within a certain temperature range (77°-108°F). In warmer times of the year, water pipes that carry cold water may reach a temperature that allows Legionella bacteria to amplify.4 When the water becomes aerosolized, the odds increase that someone will inhale contaminated water droplets with higher levels of Legionella bacteria.
Additionally, the nutrients and biofilm that allow Legionella bacteria to proliferate are also better able to grow in warm temperatures. Where nutrients are adequate, microbes generally grow more rapidly at warmer temperatures than at colder temperatures. Therefore, warmer temperatures facilitate the growth of opportunistic pathogens, such as Legionella bacteria, in the biofilm.5 The more biofilm grows, the more likely Legionella bacteria will grow.
Bottom Line: Although Legionella bacteria testing should be done year-round to assess water quality, keep a close eye on Legionella bacteria results at your facility during the summer months.
1. CDC. National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System, Weekly Tables of Infectious Disease Data. Atlanta, GA. CDC Division of Health Informatics and Surveillance. TABLE 2l. Weekly cases of selected notifiable diseases (≥ 1,000 cases reported during the preceding year), and selected low frequency diseases, United States and U.S. territories, week ending December 29, 2018 (WEEK 52) https://wonder.cdc.gov/nndss/static/2018/52/2018-52-table2L.html. Accessed March 29, 2019.
2. CDC. Legionella (Legionnaires’ disease and Pontiac fever): History, burden, and trends. National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, Division of Bacterial Diseases. https://www.cdc.gov/legionella/about/history.html. Updated November 26, 2018. Accessed February 22, 2019.
3. Talley, L. Warm weather to blame for increase Legionnaires’ cases. Michigan Radio. https://www.michiganradio.org/post/warm-weather-blame-increase-legionnaires-cases. Published July 10, 2018. Accessed February 22, 2019.
4. CDC. Legionella (Legionnaires’ disease and Pontiac fever): What owners and managers of buildings and healthcare facilities need to know about the growth and spread of Legionella. https://www.cdc.gov/legionella/wmp/overview/growth-and-spread.html. National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, Division of Bacterial Diseases. Updated September 14, 2018. Accessed February 22, 2019.
5. EPA. Health risks from microbial growth and biofilms in drinking water distribution systems. Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water. https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2015-09/documents/2007_05_18_disinfection_tcr_whitepaper_tcr_biofilms.pdf. Published June 17, 2002. Accessed February 22, 2019.
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