Several weeks after a breakout of Legionnaires’ disease in the South Bronx, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced over the weekend that the outbreak is finally “tapering off.” The current Legionnaire’s outbreak is the largest in the city’s history, killing 10 and hospitalizing more than 100 others.
But, even though no new cases of the disease have been reported in a week, five more water cooling towers in South Bronx buildings tested positive for legionella bacteria. The buildings included Samuel Gompers High School, the Bronx Hall of Justice, a post office, and two apartment buildings. There is no sign that anyone has grown ill from the new sites, Mayor de Blasio announced.
The city has ordered that in the next two weeks all buildings with cooling towers that haven’t been tested in the last 30 days must be tested, and any towers found contaminated be disinfected. Failure to comply is a misdemeanor. There an estimated 2,500 buildings with cooling towers in New York City. Governor Andrew Cuomo sent 150 trained workers to help test Bronx cooling towers.
The last Legionnaires’ outbreak to hit the Bronx was in December of 2014, when 12 residents in one large apartment complex contracted the potentially deadly disease. No one died in that outbreak. The state sees about 539 cases per year on average.
Most people who develop Legionnaires’ disease are exposed to the bacteria through water supplies such as cooling towers and hot water tanks, or from water in hot tubs, plumbing systems, and fountains. Legionnaires’ disease is spread by breathing in contaminated water that’s been vaporized or misted. The disease doesn’t spread through human contact and is highly treatable with antibiotics.
Legionnaires’ disease sets in two to 10 days after exposure and has symptoms similar to pneumonia, including shortness of breath, high fever, chills, and chest pains. People suffering with Legionnaires’ also experience appetite loss, confusion, fatigue, and muscle aches. Those at highest risk for contracting the illness include the elderly, cigarette smokers, and people with chronic lung or immune system disease.
Tips for prevention of Legionnaires’ disease include regular maintenance and cleaning of water systems in which legionella bacteria could grow. Water systems that may be more susceptible to legionella bacterial growth include hot tubs, decorative fountains, and cooling towers. According to Legionella.org, about 10,000 to 18,000 people are infected with the bacteria each year in the U.S.