Update, Nov. 3
The count of individuals infected with Legionnaires’ disease in downtown Flushing was increased to 15 on Thursday by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH), according to news reports. The DOHMH said the 15th person was infected well before Oct. 24, when the department announced the cluster. That person, however, did not require hospitalization and wasn’t diagnosed until Oct. 25.

‘We remain confident that the risk to Flushing residents continues to diminish,” the health department wrote in a statement. “If by next week we do not see any additional cases with illness onset later than Oct. 17 in downtown Flushing, we will declare the case investigation over.”

Only one patient remains hospitalized. There have been no deaths reported with this outbreak.

Update, Oct. 26
The two illnesses being investigated in the Flushing outbreak have been confirmed as Legionnaires’ disease, bringing the total to 14 people infected, according to news reports. Two patients remain hospitalized, while the other 12 have been treated and released.

The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) is still seeking the source(s) for the bacteria responsible for the cluster. They announced that preliminary tests of 10 of the 52 cooling towers returned positive results for Legionella DNA. The DOHMH issued orders to increase or change the biocide – an anti-fouling agent or disinfectant used to kill bacteria – in the affected towers.

Additional testing will take about two weeks to determine if any of the towers contained live Legionella bacteria, which is the bacteria that causes Legionnaires’ disease. The DOHMH will order the owner of any building with a positive result to completely clean and disinfect their cooling tower(s).

Original post, Oct. 25
The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) confirmed a cluster of 12 Legionnaires’ disease cases in downtown Flushing, Queens, according to multiple news reports. Two other cases also are being investigated.

A dozen patients – aged from the early 30s to late 80s – were diagnosed with the illness since the middle of October. Most of the individuals had underlying health conditions which made them more susceptible to the disease.

Five of the people have been hospitalized and recovering, and seven have been discharged from the hospital. No one has died, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates 1 out of every 10 people who get sick from Legionnaires’ disease will die.

Dr. Mary Bassett, NYC DOHMH Commissioner
(AP File Photo)

“I urge individuals in this area with respiratory symptoms to seek medical attention right away,” Dr. Mary Bassett, the NYC DOHMH commissioner, said in a statement. “As with our previous Legionnaires’ disease investigations, we are in the process of investigating the source of the cluster and are working with building owners in the area to rapidly test and clean cooling towers.”

The DOHMH suspects that the Legionella bacteria, which causes Legionnaires’ disease, may be hiding in cooling towers in residential buildings in the area. Officials, however, are not disclosing exact addresses or a specific zone to be wary of, as they want all residents in and around Flushing to be on high alert.

“We’re advising doctors to test more, so I won’t be surprised if there are more cases,” Dr. Demetre Daskalakis, Deputy Health Commissioner, Division of Disease Control, said at a news conference. “We’re actually investigating two other ones.

“If we identify towers that have viable or living bacteria that can cause disease, we will then tell the owners of those towers that they need to do a full remediation, which means to drain them and to disinfect them.”

What symptoms should concern you?

The symptoms of Legionnaires’ disease look like other forms of pneumonia or even flu, which is why so many cases go unreported every year. Early symptoms can include:

  • chills
  • fever, potentially 104 degrees or higher
  • headaches
  • loss of appetite
  • muscle aches.

After the first few days of the disease presenting, symptoms can worsen to include:

  • chest pain when breathing (called pleuritic chest pain, due to inflamed lungs)
  • confusion and agitation
  • a cough, which may bring up mucus and blood
  • diarrhea (about one-third of all cases result in gastrointestinal problems)
  • nausea and vomiting
  • shortness of breath.

The incubation period – the amount of time between breathing in the bacteria and developing symptoms – is usually 2 to 10 days after exposure and can be as much as 16 days.

Who should be most concerned?

After Legionnaires’ disease has been diagnosed, hospitalization is usually 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 of infection include:

  • people 50 or older
  • smokers, current or former
  • heavy drinkers of alcoholic beverages
  • people with chronic lung disease
  • people with weakened immune systems.

Queens has been a hot zone

The downtown Flushing cluster is the fifth and largest outbreak in Queens this year:

  • In early September, the DOHMH said it was monitoring two apartment buildings in the Lindenwood section of Howard Beach after two cases of Legionnaires’ disease occurred within a 10-month period.
  • Two cases, including one death, occurred between June and September at the Parker Towers in the Forest Hills neighborhood of Queens.
  • In late August, two cases of Legionnaires’ disease were recorded at a Hampton House LLC apartment building in Rego Park within a six-month period.
  • Two earlier cases in Flushing occurred at the Latimer Gardens Houses within a one-year period. The most recent incident hospitalized a resident in July.