Legionnaires outbreak: 4 dead, 65 infected, New York City on alert

© Robert Pratta
New York City is in the midst of a deadly outbreak of a type of severe pneumonia known as Legionnaires’ Disease. Bronx residents have become anxious, as four people have succumbed to the illness and 65 others have been infected in the area since July 10.

According to hospital officials, fifty-five of the infected have been hospitalized. 

The disease is spread by Legionella bacteria, which resides in some plumbing systems, including hot tubs, cooling towers, hot water tanks, and humidifiers. People can be infected by breathing in mist from the water. The bacteria cannot spread from person to person. 

While this is not the first outbreak of the disease in New York City, the news has been spreading fear among locals. The current outbreak is regarded as very unusual as it involves five times more cases than the previous one, in which only 12 people fell sick.

Outbreaks usually occur in the summer or early fall. Some of the symptoms are coughing, fever, headaches and muscle pain.

To fight the disease, the local health department inspected 22 buildings in the Bronx, including 17 cooling towers. 

Authorities found five infected buildings – Concourse Plaza mall, the historic Opera House Hotel, the Verizon office building, the Streamline Plastics Company, as well as the Lincoln Medical and Mental Health Center. Disinfection processes have been carried out at all five locations. 

NYC fountains, pools and drinking water have not been affected, officials said

Panic, anxiety in Bronx

The large number of people infected and a seemingly slow response from authorities have made Bronx residents particularly anxious. 

While local officials are working to make changes to bylaws which would require cooling towers to be inspected for the bacteria, some people in the Bronx have already opted for drinking bottled water only for fear of coming down with the illness, according to the New York Times. 

Health officials have been asking those infected where they work and live in order to understand where the disease originated.

Authorities tried to calm the situation on Saturday, stressing that the recent uptick in the number of  Legionnaires cases does not mean there will be a sudden spread of the disease, but rather reflects a 10-day incubation period. 

“We expect the case count to rise over the next several days because it reflects what has happened in the past,” said deputy commissioner for disease control at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Dr. Jay Varma. “We are confident the investigation we’ve done has identified all the potential sources of the infection.”

“To be perfectly honest, we don’t know what it is about the cooling towers or the bacteria or the environment that led to this specific outbreak,” Varma added. 

Those who have died from the illness were older and had other medical conditions besides Legionnaires, a press released published by the city said. 

Anywhere between 8,000 and 18,000 people throughout the US are hospitalized each year due to the disease, according to CDC statistics.