Three people have died and fifty-seven have fallen ill from an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in the Bronx. Officials say that The New York City Health Department describes this is an “unusual” outbreak of the disease. Authorities added eleven cases, including a death to the total on Thursday.
Legionnaires’ disease is a severe, at times lethal, form of pneumonia that spreads through the air. The disease is caused by exposure to the bacteria Legionella. Majority of the time, people are exposed when they inhale contaminated aerosols from cooling towers, hot tubs, shower, faucets, or drinking water.
City officials report that the fifty-seven cases on record have been reported in the south Bronx since July 10. Since then, there have been three deaths resulting from it, two middle-aged men and one middle-aged woman. But all three patients had underlying health conditions before contracting the disease.
The Health Department reports that, since July 10, cases have been mainly reported in areas like High Bridge, Morrisania, Hunts Point, and Mott Haven.
“Disease detectives” are still searching for the source of the outbreak, the city reported on Friday. Twenty-two buildings have been searched, seventeen of them have cooling systems, and three of those buildings have tested positive for Legionella. Of the three positive-tested buildings is one at Lincoln Hospital, one at Concourse Plaza, a private housing facility, and one at the Opera House Hotel.
“Whatever’s in the atmosphere gets pulled into the cooling tower, so there’s a lot more dirt and debris and areas that organisms can grown in,” says Pete Stempkowski from Clarity Water Technologies.
As for the decontamination process, efforts began at the Opera House Hotel on Friday and they are ongoing at the Concourse Plaza. None of the fifty-seven reported patients of Legionnaires’ stayed at the Opera House Hotel, meaning that there may be more infected and unaware civilians.
Julio Vargas, the hotel’s magager, assures that the necessary steps are being taken in order to make sure the hotel and its guests are safe.
“We’re taking all the necessary steps to make sure the hotel is safe, that the hotel is still a safe place to stay and make sure that no one gets sick from this bacteria,” says Vargas.
There was no evidence of contamination within Lincoln Hospital, reported Mayor de Blasio and Health Commissioner Mary Bassett at a briefing on Thursday. Even though the infected patients are being treated at the hospital, none of them (patients or employees) contracted the disease at the facility.
Since the cases were all contracted in spread out locations, authorities don’t believe that the spike in the disease is connected to contaminated drinking water, ruling out one of the possible causes, Health Commissioner Mary Bassett, said at Thursday’s news briefing.
“The water supply in the south Bronx remains entirely safe,” Bassett reports. “We don’t know the source of this outbreak, but in recent months we have seen outbreaks associated with cooling towers and that’s why we’re focusing on them. We’re testing every cooling tower we can find in the area.”
Authorities are waiting for the results of the seventeen cooling towers that were tested.
Despite the outbreak and the deaths that have resulted, de Blasio and Bessett reassure the public that there is no reason to be alarmed.
“People have to understand that this is a disease that can be treated—and can be treated well if caught early,” de Blasio said, on Thursday. “The exception can be with folks who are already unfortunately suffering from health challenges, particularly immune system challenges. But for the vast majority of New Yorkers, if they were even exposed, this can be addressed very well and very quickly so long as they seek medical treatment.”
Symptoms of the disease are similar to those of pneumonia, including shortness of breath, high fever, chills, and chest pains. It typically sets in two to ten days after exposure to the infectious bacteria. Other symptoms include loss of appetite, confusion, fatigue, and muscle aches.
Those highest at risk for the disease are the elderly, cigarette smokers, those on immunosuppressive drugs, and those with chronic lung or immune system diseases. It cannot be spread from person to person, and most cases can be successfully treated with antibiotics.
The Health Department urges anyone experiencing these symptoms to seek medical attention immediately.
The last outbreak that hit the Bronx was in December. Between December and January, twelve people contracted the potentially lethal disease. Officials reported that a contaminated cooling tower was likely linked to 75 percent of those cases. There were no deaths resulting from the last outbreak.