By Elizabeth Zach, RCAC staff writer

Between 2000 and 2015, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control reported that cases of Legionnaire’s Disease among Americans more than quadrupled.

Researchers there are unsure why, but they cite likely contributing factors to the growing numbers are better reporting by state and local health officials as well as better diagnostic tests, degraded water pipes, an aging population and poor building maintenance.

At the same time, engineers, researchers and public health officials agree that the disease and how it is transmitted are both poorly understood and mostly neglected.

Legionnaire’s disease is a pneumonia-like illness that attacks the lungs. The bacteria that causes the disease is found in rivers and lakes, but also grows in plumbing systems, water tanks and other locations that hold warm water for extended periods. Cooling systems in large buildings and fountains can scatter the bacteria into the air. The disease is deadly but it is mostly off the radar of building owners and managers, say researchers. There are no comprehensive guidelines for testing, and water system maintenance and regulations are outdated or nonexistent.

New federal regulations for Medicare facilities could change that.

“We believe that increased knowledge in how to recognize and treat the disease can help bend the [infection] curve downwards,” Chris Edens, a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention epidemiologist, told Circle of Blue.

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