NYC Faces Second Legionnaires' Outbreak of the Year

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.

New York City is now dealing with the second Legionnaires’ disease outbreak of the year.

The current outbreak originated in Morris Park, in the east Bronx, and, according to the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, is unrelated to the original contagion, which originated in the Opera House Hotel in the South Bronx in early August. That outbreak saw more than 100 people diagnosed, 94 of whom were hospitalized.

All the patients affected by the current cluster are currently hospitalized. They range in age from 45 to 75. The Department of Health urges New Yorkers with flu-like or respiratory symptoms, such as fever, cough, chills, breathing difficulties, and headache, to seek medical attention. “The department is taking immediate steps to determine the source and protect the people who live and work in Morris Park,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett.

Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. issued a statement about the outbreak: “My office will share information with the public through my website and through social-media channels on this outbreak as it becomes available. As we monitor this situation, we urge anyone who feels sick to visit their doctor or a hospital to get checked. It is too important to wait.” Informational flyers on Legionnaires’ are available here in English, Spanish, French, and Chinese.

Legionnaires’ disease, also called legionellosis, is a kind of non-contagious pneumonia caused by the bacterium Legionella pneumophila, which proliferates in warm water. Patients can become infected only by breathing in water vapor that contains the bacteria. The elderly, cigarette smokers, and people with chronic lung disease or with weakened immune systems are at particular risk, though most people can recover with early antibiotic treatment. New York City usually sees 200 to 300 cases of Legionnaires’ per year.

The health department reports that most cases of Legionnaires’ can be traced back to plumbing systems conducive to the growth of the bacteria, such as cooling towers, hot tubs, whirlpool spas, humidifiers, hot water tanks, and evaporative condensers of large air-conditioning systems.

As a result of this summer's Legionnaires’ outbreak, the New York City Department of Buildings enacted a new law requiring building owners to register their cooling towers, fluid coolers, and evaporative condensers with the city. The law would allow the city to locate this equipment and track its maintenance. The law mandated that building owners register by September 17, and so far a department spokeswoman says that 5,217 cooling towers have been registered — including the one at the Opera House Hotel. 

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