Legionnaires' disease. Postmortem pathologic findings of 20 cases

Am J Clin Pathol. 1980 Apr;73(4):488-95. doi: 10.1093/ajcp/73.4.488.


From March 1977 to December 1978, postmortem examination was performed at Wadsworth Veterans Administration Medical Center for 20 patients who had had nosocomially acquired Legionnaires' disease. Seventeen patients died during the acute illness due to Legionnaires' disease, and three patients died after clinical resolution of the acute process. The only consistent postmortem findings were limited to the lungs. Confluent bronchopneumonia, and less frequently lobar pneumonia, was present in most cases. Although a spectrum of microscopic pulmonary findings was observed, the characteristic histologic features of acute Legionnaires' disease were an extensive intra-alveolar exudation of macrophages and neutrophils in varying proportions, erythrocytes, and fibrin. Lysis of the inflammatory cells was frequently found. Areas of coagulative necrosis of the lung parenchyma and edematous thickening of the alveolar septa were typically seen. Microscopy of lung tissue from the three patients who died after clinical resolution of the acute process revealed organized pneumonia, with patchy organization of the intra-alveolar exudate and focal obliteration of the alveolar septal framework. Associated postmortem findings were fibrinous endocarditis in one case and hemorrhagic infarction of the adrenal glands in two cases. Electron-microscopic examination of the lungs revealed as many as 23 separate bacillary profiles within a single macrophage. Septate binary fission or spore-like structures were not observed.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Bronchopneumonia / pathology*
  • Edema
  • Humans
  • Legionnaires' Disease / pathology*
  • Lung / pathology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Necrosis
  • Pneumonia, Pneumococcal / pathology*
  • Pulmonary Alveoli / pathology