Two cases of Legionnaires’ disease were recently reported from the section of Hamilton Township, Mercer County, served by Trenton Water Works (TWW). Two additional cases were reported, respectively in April 2022 and December 2021. Of the four, one individual has died.
Legionnaires’ disease is a type of pneumonia that people can get after breathing in aerosolized water (small droplets of water in the air) containing Legionella bacteria. You cannot get Legionnaires’ disease by drinking water that has Legionella. Less commonly, people can get sick when water containing Legionella is aspirated into the lungs while drinking (“goes down the wrong pipe”).
The New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH) receives approximately 250–350 reports of Legionnaires’ disease each year throughout New Jersey. Public health departments routinely conduct disease surveillance to identify suspected clusters or outbreaks. When an outbreak is identified, impacted individuals are notified so they are aware of steps they can take to reduce their risk of Legionnaires’ disease.
The Hamilton Township Division of Health says it is working closely with NJDOH to investigate these cases. This is part of a larger ongoing investigation to determine potential sources of Legionella contributing to the higher burden of Legionnaires’ disease in Hamilton Township. Health officials continue to conduct surveillance for Legionnaires’ disease in other municipalities served by TWW.
It is rare for a healthy person exposed to Legionella to become sick with Legionnaires’ disease. However, people who are 50 years or older, especially those who smoke, or those with certain medical conditions, including weakened immune systems, chronic lung disease or other chronic health conditions, are at increased risk for Legionnaires’ disease.
Symptoms of Legionnaires’ disease include cough, shortness of breath, fever, muscle aches, and headaches, which are similar to symptoms caused by other respiratory infections, including COVID-19. Legionnaires’ disease can be fatal but is treatable with antibiotics. It is important that anyone who thinks they have symptoms of Legionnaires’ disease contact their health care provider and seek medical evaluation.