Skip to main navigation Skip to main content Skip to footer For Medicare For Providers For Brokers For Employers Español For Individuals & Families: For Individuals & Families Medical Dental Other Supplemental Explore coverage through work How to Buy Health Insurance Types of Dental Insurance Open Enrollment vs. Special Enrollment See all topics Shop for Medicare plans Member Guide Find a Doctor Log in to myCigna
Home Knowledge Center Wellness Library Legionnaires' Disease and Pontiac Fever

Legionnaires' Disease and Pontiac Fever

Conditions Basics

What are Legionnaires' disease and Pontiac fever?

Legionnaires' disease is a type of pneumonia. It is caused by bacteria called Legionella pneumophila. The bacteria got its name in 1976, when a group of people attending an American Legion convention became infected. Although it was present before 1976, Legionnaires' disease is being diagnosed more often now as doctors look for Legionella bacteria in people who have pneumonia. You can get Legionnaire's disease at any time of the year, but more cases are usually found in the summer and early fall. While Legionnaires' disease can be very serious, most cases can be treated successfully.

The Legionella pneumophila bacteria can also cause a less severe, flu-like condition known as Pontiac fever.

How are they spread?

People usually get Legionnaires' disease or Pontiac fever when they breathe in a mist or vapor (small droplets of water in the air) that contains the bacteria. One example might be from breathing in the steam from a whirlpool spa that has not been properly cleaned and disinfected. Other sources include fountains and water sources in hotels, cruise ships, nursing homes, and hospitals.

These diseases aren't contagious. The bacteria are not spread from one person to another person. You can get the diseases again if you are exposed to the bacteria again.

Legionnaires' disease typically affects people older than 45, especially if they smoke or have a long-term lung disease such as asthma. footnote 1 People with a weak immune system are also more likely to get the condition. Despite its being named after infecting a large group of people, Legionnaires' disease usually occurs in single cases, not in large groups at one time (an outbreak).

Pontiac fever usually occurs in otherwise healthy people.

What are the symptoms?

The most common symptoms of Legionnaires' disease include:

  • Cough.
  • High fever.
  • Chills.

Less common symptoms range from muscle aches and headaches to abdominal (belly) pain, shortness of breath, and chest pain.

Legionnaire's disease symptoms usually appear 2 days to 2 weeks after a person is exposed to the bacteria. Symptoms can range from mild to severe.

Pontiac fever symptoms include fever and muscle aches. Symptoms usually appear 1 to 2 days after a person is exposed to the bacteria. They usually go away without treatment in a few days.

How are they diagnosed?

Your doctor can diagnose both Legionnaires' disease and Pontiac fever by asking about your past health and by doing a physical exam. If your doctor thinks you have Legionnaires' disease, he or she will ask about your working conditions, if you have been around any possible source like fountains or hot tubs, and if you have traveled within the past 2 weeks. The doctor will also do tests. The tests may include a chest X-ray, blood test, urine test, or looking at mucus from your lungs.

How are Legionnaires' disease and Pontiac fever treated?

Most cases of Legionnaires' disease can be treated successfully with antibiotics. Treatment usually lasts at least 5 days.

Fever tends to improve or go away within the first few days. A cough may take longer to disappear. But in general you should start to feel better within the first few days of treatment. Complete recovery can take from 2 to 4 months.

Pontiac fever will go away without treatment. To reduce fever and muscle aches, drink plenty of fluids and consider taking over-the-counter pain relievers like acetaminophen (Tylenol, for example) or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). NSAIDs include ibuprofen (such as Advil and Motrin), naproxen (such as Aleve), and aspirin. Do not give aspirin to anyone younger than 20 because of the risk of Reye syndrome. Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.

What should you do if you think you were exposed to the bacteria?

Most people who are exposed to the bacteria don't become ill. But if you believe you were exposed, talk to your doctor or local health department. Be sure to tell them where you think you were exposed and if you have traveled in the last 2 weeks. This information will help them correctly diagnose and treat the disease, locate the source of the bacteria, and prevent others from being exposed to it.

References

References

Citations

  1. Neil K, Berkelman R (2008). Increasing incidence of legionellosis in the United States, 1990–2005: Changing epidemiologic trends. Clinical Infectious Diseases, 47(5): 591–599.

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated, disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. Learn how we develop our content.

© 1995-2022 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.

Related Links

Pneumonia

<cipublic-spinner variant="large"><span>Loading…</span></cipublic-spinner>

Page Footer

I want to...

Get an ID card File a claim View my claims and EOBs Check coverage under my plan See prescription drug list Find an in-network doctor, dentist, or facility Find a form Find 1095-B tax form information View the Cigna Glossary Contact Cigna

Audiences

Individuals and Families Medicare Employers Brokers Providers

Secure Member Sites

myCigna member portal Health Care Provider portal Cigna for Employers Client Resource Portal Cigna for Brokers

Cigna Company Information

About Cigna Company Profile Careers Newsroom Investors Suppliers Third Party Administrators International Evernorth

 Cigna. All rights reserved.

Privacy Legal Product Disclosures Cigna Company Names Customer Rights Accessibility Non-Discrimination Notice [PDF] Language Assistance [PDF] Report Fraud Sitemap

Disclaimer

Individual and family medical and dental insurance plans are insured by Cigna Health and Life Insurance Company (CHLIC), Cigna HealthCare of Arizona, Inc., Cigna HealthCare of Illinois, Inc., and Cigna HealthCare of North Carolina, Inc. Group health insurance and health benefit plans are insured or administered by CHLIC, Connecticut General Life Insurance Company (CGLIC), or their affiliates (see a listing of the legal entities  that insure or administer group HMO, dental HMO, and other products or services in your state). Accidental Injury, Critical Illness, and Hospital Care plans or insurance policies are distributed exclusively by or through operating subsidiaries of Cigna Corporation, are administered by Cigna Health and Life Insurance Company, and are insured by either (i) Cigna Health and Life Insurance Company (Bloomfield, CT); (ii) Life Insurance Company of North America (“LINA”) (Philadelphia, PA); or (iii) New York Life Group Insurance Company of NY (“NYLGICNY”) (New York, NY), formerly known as Cigna Life Insurance Company of New York. The Cigna name, logo, and other Cigna marks are owned by Cigna Intellectual Property, Inc. LINA and NYLGICNY are not affiliates of Cigna.

All insurance policies and group benefit plans contain exclusions and limitations. For availability, costs and complete details of coverage, contact a licensed agent or Cigna sales representative. This website is not intended for residents of New Mexico.

Selecting these links will take you away from Cigna.com to another website, which may be a non-Cigna website. Cigna may not control the content or links of non-Cigna websites. Details