Legionnaires' disease: isolation of a bacterium and demonstration of its role in other respiratory disease

N Engl J Med. 1977 Dec 1;297(22):1197-203. doi: 10.1056/NEJM197712012972202.


To identify the etiologic agent of Legionnaire's disease, we examined patients' serum and tissue specimens in a search for toxins, bacteria, fungi, chlamydiae, rickettsiae and viruses. From the lungs of four of six patients we isolated a gram-negative, non-acid-fast bacillus in guinea pigs. The bacillus could be transferred to yolk sacs of embryonated eggs. Classification of this organism is incomplete. We used yolk-sac cultures of the bacillus as antigen to survey suspected serum specimens, employing antihuman-globulin fluorescent antibody. When compared to controls, specimens from 101 to 111 patients meeting clinical criteria of Legionnaires' disease showed diagnostic increases in antibody titers. Diagnostic increases were also found in 54 recent sporadic cases of severe pneumonia and, retrospectively, in stored serum from most patients in two other previously unsolved outbreaks of respiratory disease. We conclude that Legionnaires' disease is caused by a gram-negative bacterium that may be responsible for widespread infection.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Antibodies, Bacterial / analysis
  • Bacteria / immunology
  • Bacteria / isolation & purification*
  • Bacteriological Techniques
  • District of Columbia
  • Female
  • Fluorescent Antibody Technique
  • Humans
  • Legionnaires' Disease / microbiology*
  • Male
  • Michigan
  • Middle Aged
  • Pennsylvania
  • Respiratory Tract Infections / microbiology


  • Antibodies, Bacterial