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Review
, 15 (3), 506-26

Legionella and Legionnaires' Disease: 25 Years of Investigation

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Review

Legionella and Legionnaires' Disease: 25 Years of Investigation

Barry S Fields et al. Clin Microbiol Rev.

Abstract

There is still a low level of clinical awareness regarding Legionnaires' disease 25 years after it was first detected. The causative agents, legionellae, are freshwater bacteria with a fascinating ecology. These bacteria are intracellular pathogens of freshwater protozoa and utilize a similar mechanism to infect human phagocytic cells. There have been major advances in delineating the pathogenesis of legionellae through the identification of genes which allow the organism to bypass the endocytic pathways of both protozoan and human cells. Other bacteria that may share this novel infectious process are Coxiella burnetti and Brucella spp. More than 40 species and numerous serogroups of legionellae have been identified. Most diagnostic tests are directed at the species that causes most of the reported human cases of legionellosis, L. pneumophila serogroup 1. For this reason, information on the incidence of human respiratory disease attributable to other species and serogroups of legionellae is lacking. Improvements in diagnostic tests such as the urine antigen assay have inadvertently caused a decrease in the use of culture to detect infection, resulting in incomplete surveillance for legionellosis. Large, focal outbreaks of Legionnaires' disease continue to occur worldwide, and there is a critical need for surveillance for travel-related legionellosis in the United States. There is optimism that newly developed guidelines and water treatment practices can greatly reduce the incidence of this preventable illness.

Figures

FIG. 1.
FIG. 1.
Life cycle of L. pneumophila in protozoa and human macrophages.
FIG. 2.
FIG. 2.
Legionnaires' disease, 1980 to 1998; annual number of cases reported.

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