Portuguese researchers published an article in the New England Journal of Medicine on February 4, 2016 suggesting that they have found a case in which Legionella bacteria were transmitted person-to-person.
The case involves a 48-year-old man who works as a maintenance worker at an industrial cooling tower complex. He became infected with Legionella pneumophila in October 2014 and was one of the first cases involved in a cluster of cases in Vila Franca de Xira, Portugal.
The man lived with his 74-year-old mother and when he developed respiratory symptoms including severe cough, she took care of him. Approximately two weeks later, the man’s mother also became ill and was admitted to the hospital where she was diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease.
The mother ultimately died on December 1, 2014 and her son died on January 7, 2015.
The patients’ home in Porto was tested for Legionella and found to be negative. Person-to-person transmission of Legionella is suspected due to the close contact and severe cough of the son to his mother.
A US expert urged that this case study should be interpreted with caution, however.
“While this case report sheds new light on a potential concern for person-to-person transmission for Legionnaires’ disease, it’s important to realize that the primary mode of transmission continues to be via inhalation of infected aerosols from cooling towers associated with large-scale air conditioning and ventilation units,” said Dr. Robert Glatter, an emergency physician at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.
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