NYC Dealing With 'Worst Legionnaires’ Disease Outbreak in Its History,' Says Health Chief

This micrograph depicted details seen in a lung tissue specimen from a patient with fatal pneumonia due to Legionnaires’ disease.
This micrograph depicted details seen in a lung tissue specimen from a patient with fatal pneumonia due to Legionnaires’ disease.
CDC/ William Cherry via Wikimedia Commons

Update: 12:36 p.m., August 7, 2015:
The total number of people diagnosed with Legionnaires' has risen to 101.
Ninety-four of them have been hospitalized, and 65 have been treated and discharged. 

“New York City is experiencing the worst outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in its history, with more than 100 people diagnosed in the South Bronx," Dr. Mary Travis Bassett, commissioner of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, said today.

"We now see the frequency of diagnoses decreasing, as well as the number of emergency department visits for pneumonia in the South Bronx. We have fewer new cases; people are seeking care promptly and getting treatment promptly. We’re optimistic that we’ve seen the worst of this outbreak, and that our remediation efforts are having an impact. I thank the people of the Bronx for hearing the message and getting it out to their neighbors, friends, and family. However, we must all remain vigilant. The health department will continue to monitor for new cases and check that building owners are continuing remediation efforts. Residents of the Bronx: It’s critical that if you do develop pneumonia-like symptoms, you seek care right away.”

* * * 

Update: 5:55 p.m., August 6, 2015:
Tonight Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that the Legionnaires' death toll has risen to ten people. The total number of people who have contracted has hit a hundred. De Blasio said the city has ordered the managers of all buildings with the large cooling towers that can harbor Legionella bacteria to disinfect them by August 19. "We are doing this out of an abundance of caution," de Blasio said. Fifty-three people have been discharged after treatment.

* * * 

Update: 7:33 p.m., August 5, 2015:
The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene reports tonight that eight people have now died from the Legionnaires' disease outbreak in the South Bronx. The number of people who have contracted Legionnaires’ from this cluster now comes to 97. Ninety-two of them have been hospitalized and 48 have been treated and released. Every site tested must submit a "long-term plan" as to how it will guard against the growth of Legionella bacteria.

* * * 
Original story: 7:11 p.m., August 3, 2015:
Seven people have now died of Legionnaires’ disease in New York, clustered in the South Bronx, up three people from the announced weekend total.

The mayor's office noted that the three additional people were "older adults and had additional underlying medical problems," and that "these additional deaths occurred in prior days and were reported to the health department [Sunday].

"These patients are connected to the current cluster."

So far, 81 people are reported to have contracted Legionnaires’, and of that number, 64 have been hospitalized. Twenty-eight of those people have been treated and discharged.

The mayor's office assures us that "New York City’s drinking water supply and other water features, like fountains, showerheads, and pools, are safe" and "unaffected by legionella."

The first cases were reported last week, and Mary Bassett, commissioner of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, described the symptoms on July 29 as "the ones that we see in pneumonia: fever, cough, difficulty breathing, headache, muscle pains — you can even have chills. These are symptoms that people should seek care for, especially if they are living in the South Bronx. Well, you should seek care for those kind of symptoms any time."

Seventeen cooling towers — which can contain water contaminated with the Legionella pneumophila bacterium — were tested; five have returned positive. "Remediation" has been completed at those five locations:

• Lincoln Hospital (234 E. 149th St.)
• Concourse Plaza (214 E. 161st St.)
• Opera House Hotel (436 E. 149th St.)
• Verizon office building (117 E. 167th St.)
• Streamline Plastic Company (2590 Park Ave.)

Most cases have been reported in the South Bronx neighborhoods of Highbridge-Morrisania and Hunts Point–Mott Haven. 

The mayor's office on Monday announced that by Friday, "all sites will submit long-term plans as to how they will maintain the cooling towers to protect against any future growth of legionella."

There were 301 reported cases of Legionnaires’ disease in 2013 and 225 in 2014.

It's been a little over 39 years since the disease broke out during an American Legion convention in Philadelphia in July 1976.

The bacterium Legionella pneumophila can be found in water in large central air-conditioning systems in office buildings, hotels, hospitals, or any other large building. In that first documented outbreak in '76, of the 182 people infected, 29 died.


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