COLUMBIA, S.C. — The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) is investigating a cluster of Legionnaires’ disease cases in Darlington County. To date, 13 people have been identified as part of this cluster.
Legionnaires’ disease is a pneumonia caused by the bacteria Legionella and includes symptoms of fever, chills, cough, shortness of breath and muscle aches. People can get sick from Legionella by breathing in small particles of water containing the bacteria. Legionella is not spread from person to person.
“The risk of Legionnaires’ disease among residents of Darlington is low,” said Dr. Abdoulaye Diedhiou, director of DHEC’s Division of Acute Disease Epidemiology. “Most people exposed to Legionella do not develop Legionnaires’ disease.”
People over the age of 50, especially those who smoke cigarettes and those with weakened immune systems, chronic lung disease or other chronic health conditions are at increased risk for Legionnaires’ disease.Those at higher risk of getting a severe infection should seek medical care early if they have the above symptoms. Health care providers should test for other causes of respiratory illness, including influenza, COVID-19, RSV and others as appropriate. Pneumonia caused by Legionella is treatable with antibiotics.
DHEC’s investigation includes efforts to determine the source of the disease cluster in the community. Investigations into these types of Legionnaires’ clusters are complex. It is often not possible to determine the origin of the bacteria that infected people. Water from cooling towers, hot tubs, misters, decorative fountains and plumbing systems are possible sources of infection.
“We are actively investigating all potential sources,” Diedhiou said.
People concerned about their risk can protect themselves by avoiding breathing in water mists from human-made water systems. Everyone is encouraged to seek medical attention if they begin having symptoms of pneumonia.