60 cases of Legionnaires’ disease associated with travel to Dubai reported since October 2016


In recent months, there has been an increase in the number of cases of Legionnaires’ disease among European travellers returning from Dubai. As the source has not yet been identified, there could still be a risk for exposure to Legionella for persons visiting or living in Dubai.

What is Legionnaires’ disease?
Legionnaires’ disease is a type of pneumonia caused by the bacteria Legionella pneumophila and other Legionella species. The illness usually starts with flu-like symptoms including fever, tiredness, headache, and muscle pains. This is followed by a dry cough and breathing difficulties which may progress to a severe pneumonia. The disease is spread through the air from a water source. People become infected when they breathe in aerosols (tiny droplets of water) which have been contaminated with Legionella bacteria.

Further information on Legionnaires’ disease is available here.

Current situation
An increase in cases of Legionnaires’ disease associated with travel to Dubai since October 2016 was noticed by the European Centres for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC). The most recent update is available on the ECDC website. Between 1 October 2016 and 23 May 2017, there have been 60 cases of Legionnaires’ disease reported to ECDC with a history of travel to Dubai. The majority of cases stayed in commercial accommodation sites. The number of cases reported during February and April 2017 are still higher than that seen in previous years. The most recent case became ill on 11 May 2017. These recent cases suggest there is still an ongoing exposure risk.

Advice for travellers to Dubai or those recently returned
The WHO has not issued any advice against travel to Dubai. The risk of Legionnaires’ disease to travellers to Dubai is considered to be low. However, the risk may be increased for the following groups:

  • Those aged over 50
  • Those with underlying breathing problems
  • Those who have weakened immune systems
  • Smokers

If you are travelling to Dubai, be aware of the symptoms of Legionnaires’ disease. If symptoms develop while in Dubai you should seek medical care. If symptoms develop within two weeks of returning home you should seek medical care and inform your healthcare provider of your travel history.

Travellers to the UAE should also be aware of the symptoms and the advice on Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV), a different respiratory infection which is ongoing in the Arabian peninsula. Travel advice on MERS-CoV is available here.

Advice for healthcare providers
Healthcare providers should consider Legionnaires’ disease in patients presenting with pneumonia with a travel history to Dubai or the UAE in the two weeks prior to symptom onset.

Guidance information, on Legionnaires’ disease for healthcare providers is available here.

On diagnosis of a travel associated case of Legionnaires’ disease healthcare providers should inform the Department of Public Health in their area (contact details are available here).

Sporadic cases and outbreaks of MERS-CoV continue to occur in the Arabian peninsula, including the UAE. As symptoms of MERS-CoV and Legionnaires’ disease may be similar, MERS-CoV should also be considered in a person presenting with respiratory symptoms and a travel history to Dubai or the UAE in the two weeks prior to symptom onset. Guidance on the assessment and appropriate management of a possible case of MERS-CoV is available here