A growing cluster of Legionnaires’ disease cases in the Bronx has resulted in the death of one person and the illness of 18 others, eight of whom are currently hospitalized, the New York City Department of Health said Wednesday.
The cases appear to be linked to four water cooling towers on top of buildings in the Highbridge neighborhood of the Bronx, where authorities said they found Legionella pneumophila, the bacteria that causes Legionnaires’ disease.
“While most people exposed to the bacteria do not get sick, Legionnaires’ disease can cause severe illness or be fatal for those most at risk, including those with pre-existing chronic health conditions,” said the commissioner of city health, Dr. Ashwin Vasan. , in a sentence. “That’s why it’s crucial that you seek medical attention as soon as you experience flu-like symptoms.”
Outbreaks of the disease occur with some regularity in New York City, where old cooling water tanks on top of buildings can become reservoirs for the bacteria. The disease is treatable with antibiotics if caught early.
The last known death in a cluster of cases was in 2018 and was related to an outbreak of 18 cases in Upper Manhattan.
A 2018 health department analysis showed that between 200 and 700 cases were reported in the city each year, and that the rate was rising. However, large clusters of cases were rare, occurring on average once or twice a year, the health department said.
In 2015, the city experienced its largest outbreak, when 138 people fell ill and 16 died from the disease in the Bronx. The city subsequently instituted several prevention efforts, including requiring building owners to test their water supply regularly for the bacteria.
But the disease persists: Last year, a cluster of 18 cases in Harlem was linked, at least in part, to an infected water cooling tower at Harlem Hospital, a public hospital in the city.
With this latest outbreak, city health inspectors have been following up with residents to warn them about the group and ordered tower owners to disinfect them.
On Wednesday, the health department called on New Yorkers with flu-like symptoms, cough, fever or shortness of breath who live in the Highbridge area to contact a doctor immediately. Symptoms can also resemble other types of pneumonia, causing chills and muscle aches.
The disease is named after an outbreak related to a 1976 American Legion convention at the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel in Philadelphia. More than 2,000 legionaries attended and subsequently 182 became ill and 29 died. The bacteria was later found to be growing in the hotel’s air conditioning system.
Legionnaires’ disease is more common in hot climates, when conditions are favorable for the growth of Legionella in cooling towers, whirlpool spas, hot tubs, humidifiers, hot water tanks and evaporative condensers of large air conditioning systems, said the Health Department. It is produced by breathing infected water vapor and is not spread from person to person.