NY gov, mayor team up to fight Legionnaires’ as disease hits Rikers prison

© Jonathan Ernst
Twelve people have died of Legionnaires’ disease since the outbreak began on July 10 in the South Bronx, New York. The governor and mayor have announced a plan to fight the disease, as 115 people remain infected, including an inmate at Rikers Island.

The plan for uniform regulations throughout the state, introduced by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio on Tuesday, will mandate maintenance and testing of cooling towers, impose fines for failure to comply, and set up a statewide registry.

Legionnaires’ disease is transmitted by inhaling bacteria from contaminated water and or soil. The bacteria can thrive in cooling towers or evaporative condensers in large air-conditioning systems, commonly found in hospitals, hotels and large office buildings. It cannot be spread from one person to another, but it hits middle-aged or older adults the hardest and is fatal 10 to 15 percent of the time, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Protecting the public health is our number one priority,”said Cuomo at a joint news conference with Mayor de Blasio.

“I want the people of New York to know that we are doing everything necessary to tackle this outbreak and stop it from happening again. This unified approach will help in this effort, and I want to thank the City for working hand-in-hand on these emergency regulations to prevent the occurrence of Legionnaires’ disease in the future.”

Mayor de Blasio said the source of the outbreak appeared to be one or more of the five cooling towers in the Bronx that were found to be contaminated with the Legionella bacteria that causes the disease. All of them have since been disinfected.

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

But while government officials said there have been no new cases since August 3, officials at the Rikers Island prison said on Tuesday that an inmate has tested positive for Legionnaires,’ according to NBC News.

A spokeswoman for City Hall told the news outlet the case is not believed to be connected to the South Bronx outbreak, and that the patient, who had underlying medical conditions, is being treated with antibiotics.

The spokeswoman said the Department of Corrections’ six active cooling towers had been chemically disinfected last month, “but out of an abundance of caution, all six towers are being cleaned again.”

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

No other jail is affected, officials said. Inmates and staffers at Rikers are being offered screenings for the disease.

Mayor de Blasio emphasized that the city’s drinking water supply and other water sources like fountains, showerheads and pools are safe and unaffected by the Legionella bacteria, as well as water towers and home air conditioner units. Walking into air-conditioned environments is safe, de Blasio added.