Two cases of Legionnaires’ disease at James Square Health and Rehabilitation Centre in Syracuse, NY, have caused the New York State Department of Health (NYSDH) to recommend a water restriction on one of the facilities’ two buildings, according to news reports.

Drinking water in the 918 James Street building was found to contain Legionella, the bacteria that causes Legionnaires’ disease.

The NYSDH, which is currently investigating the facility, recommended a water restriction last month after water samples detected low levels of Legionella in the tap water in the first of its two buildings at 918 James Street. Testing was required after two cases of Legionnaires’ disease were reported between March and July 24. Testing at the second building at 906 James Street showed no reportable levels of the bacteria.

James Square hired a remediation expert, who hyperchlorinated (disinfected) the water system and installed filters on shower heads and faucets. Officials also installed a system that filters the water supply to both buildings.

According to a NYSDH spokesperson, James Square violated state regulations by not promptly reporting elevated Legionella water levels to the health department earlier this summer. Nursing homes are required to immediately notify the NYSDH whenever at least 30 percent of water samples test positive for Legionella. The NYSDH said the nursing home received elevated test results in early June but did not report the results until June 27.

An attorney representing the nursing home disputed the health department’s claim, stating the nursing home did not receive the June test results until August 1.

Alternate water supplies, including bottled water, are being provided to residents until additional testing shows the eradication of the bacteria from the water supply.

Both individuals who were sickened are doing well, according to a nursing home administrator.

South Bronx outbreak in 2015 prompted state regulations

The state adopted regulations designed to protect nursing home and hospital patients from Legionnaires’ disease after a 2015 outbreak in the South Bronx linked to cooling towers sickened 120 people, 12 of whom died, the largest outbreak in New York state history. Under those regulations, nursing homes and hospitals were required to submit water sampling and management plans to the state by Dec. 1, 2016. James Square has yet to submit a plan, according to the NYSDH.

The Legionnaires’ scare is the latest black eye for James Square, which has a history of poor quality and is currently under investigation by the state Attorney General’s office for patient care.

A busy summer for Legionnaires’ disease in NY

The Syracuse outbreak is the most recent for the state of New York. In June, one person died and another seven were hospitalized after contracting Legionnaires’ disease in the Lenox Hill neighborhood on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Cooling towers were believed to be the cause after 24 of the 116 towers in the area tested positive for traces of Legionella.

Also in June, two New York City police officers took ill with Legionnaires’ disease at the 23rd Precinct in Harlem. An infected water system is believed to be responsible for those illnesses.

Complications of Legionnaires’ disease

After Legionnaires’ disease is diagnosed, hospitalization is often necessary. In the most severe cases, complications can include respiratory failure, kidney failure, septic shock, or even death.

Anyone can get the disease, but those at the greatest risk include:

  • people 50 or older
  • smokers, both current or former
  • heavy drinkers of alcohol
  • individuals who suffer chronic lung disease
  • people with suppressed immune systems.