Even though Legionnaires' Disease has been identified for 42 years, it is still a mystery for many.
The 1976 Legionnaires disease outbreak, occurring in the late summer in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, was the first occasion in which a cluster of a particular type of pneumonia cases were determined to be caused by the Legionella pneumophila bacteria. Previous outbreaks were retroactively diagnosed as being most probably caused by Legionella bacteria.
On July 21, 1976, the American Legion opened its annual three-day convention at the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. More than 2,000 Legionnaires, mostly men, attended the convention. The date and city were chosen to coincide with America’s celebration of the 200th anniversary of the signing of the US Declaration of Independence at Philadelphia in 1776.
On July 27, three days after the convention ended, Legionnaire Ray Brennan, a 61-year-old retired US Air Force captain and an American Legion bookkeeper, died at his home of an apparent heart attack. Brennan had returned home from the convention on the evening of July 24 complaining of feeling tired. On July 30, another Legionnaire, Frank Aveni, aged 60, also died of an apparent heart attack, as did three other Legionnaires. All of them had been convention attendees. Twenty-four hours later, on August 1, six more Legionnaires died. They ranged in age from 39 to 82, and, like Ray Brennan, Frank Aveni, and the three other Legionnaires, all had complained of tiredness, chest pains, lung congestion, and fever.
Three of the Legionnaires had been patients of Ernest Campbell, a physician in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, who noticed that all three men had been at the Legionnaires convention in Philadelphia. He contacted the Pennsylvania Department of Health. Officials at the American Legion also began getting notices of the sudden deaths of several members, all at the same time. Within a week, more than 130 people, mostly men, had been hospitalized, and 25 had died.
Both the first week and later, there were 149 Legionnaires who became sick and 33 other persons associated with the hotel or in the area who also became sick. Of these total of 182 cases, 29 persons die
Check out our latest video on the history of Legionnaires' Disease and the story that surrounds how it was originally identified in the summer of 1976.