Legionella pneumophila is a Gram-negative bacterium of the genus Legionella. L. pneumophila is the primary human pathogenic bacterium in this group and is the causative agent of Legionnaires’ disease, also known as legionellosis.
L. pneumophila is a facultative intracellular parasite that can invade and replicate inside amoebae in the environment, especially species of the genera Acanthamoeba and Naegleria, which can thus serve as a reservoir for L. pneumophila. Legionella species typically exist in nature at low concentrations, in groundwater, lakes, and streams.
Upon inhalation, the bacteria can infect alveolar macrophages, where the bacteria can replicate. This results in Legionnaires’ disease and the less severe illness Pontiac fever. Legionella transmission is via inhalation of water droplets from a contaminated source that has allowed the organism to grow and spread (e.g., cooling towers). Transmission also occurs less commonly via aspiration of drinking water from an infected source.
Prodromal symptoms are flu-like, including fever, chills, and dry cough. Advanced stages of the disease cause problems with the gastrointestinal tract and the nervous system and lead to diarrhea and nausea. Other advanced symptoms of pneumonia may also present. However, the disease is generally not a threat to most healthy individuals, and tends to lead to severe symptoms more often in immunocompromised hosts and the elderly.