Five people have contracted Legionnaires’ disease at an elderly care facility in the Bronx, NY, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) has confirmed.

The five, all residents of the Hebrew Home at Riverdale, were diagnosed with pneumonia last month and subsequently tested positive for Legionella bacteria, which is the bacteria that causes Legionnaires’ disease.

The individuals infected in this outbreak are recovering after being treated with antibiotics, according to a Hebrew Home representative.

Facility opened 100 years ago 

The healthy-aging facility was founded a century ago in 1917 as The Hebrew Home for the Aged by a small synagogue in Harlem and moved to its current location at 5901 Palisade Avenue in Riverdale, NY, in 1951. The 32-acre RiverSpring Health campus along the Hudson River is home to more than 12,000 residents, patients, and members.

What is Legionnaires’ disease? 

Legionnaires’ disease – which is also known as Legionellosis and Legionella pneumonia – is a severe type of pneumonia (lung infection). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 25,000 cases of pneumonia due to the Legionella bacteria (Legionella pneumophila) occur each year, but only 5,000 cases are reported because of the disease’s nonspecific signs and symptoms.

The CDC estimates 1 in 10 people will die from complications of the infection. The odds are even worse for individuals who take ill at health care facilities – 1 in 4 will succumb to the disease.

How do you catch Legionnaires’ disease? 

The Legionella bacteria are contracted by inhaling microscopic water droplets in the form of mist or vapor. The bacteria, which grow best in warm water, are found primarily in human-made environments. Outbreaks have been linked to a range of sources, such as:

  • cooling towers in air conditioning systems
  • decorative fountains
  • hot tubs and whirlpools
  • hot water tanks and heaters
  • large plumbing systems
  • showers and faucets
  • swimming pools
  • equipment used in physical therapy
  • water systems like those used in hospitals, and nursing homes.

People can also catch Legionnaires’ disease by the aspiration of contaminated drinking water – that is, choking or coughing while drinking can cause water to go down the wrong pipe into the lungs. It’s also possible to contract Legionnaires’ disease from home plumbing systems, although the great majority of outbreaks have occurred in large buildings because complex systems allow the bacteria to grow and spread more easily.