The case count in the Legionnaires’ disease cluster that is affecting upper Manhattan continues to grow as the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) raised the number of infected to 22.
“We may continue to see additional cases,” Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett had warned at a community meeting after the public learned about the cluster.
The new case count comes days after it was announced that the disease had claimed the life of one person. The victim – who has yet to be identified – was over the age of 50 but wasn’t diagnosed early, compromising their health situation.
“This case was not caught early,” said Mark Levine, New York City Council member and chairperson of the Council’s Committee on Health.
The DOHMH first confirmed the cluster on July 11, at which point it was announced that eight people were diagnosed with the disease. The illness has infected individuals from southern Washington Heights and northern Hamilton Heights.
Health-care providers on lookout
The DOHMH has alerted health-care providers in the area regarding the cluster.
If you live, work or even travel through the affected area and are feeling flu-like symptoms (see below), it’s recommended you seek care from your health-care provider immediately, out of an abundance of caution.
“Don’t try to distinguish a flu or cold from Legionnaires’ disease if you’re specifically living in that lower Washington Heights area,” said Dr. Demetre Daskalakis, deputy commissioner for disease control for the DOHMH. “If you’re in that part of the city and have flu-like symptoms, that’s not one to wait on.”
Legionnaires’ disease, which is also known as legionellosis and Legionella pneumonia, is similar to other types of pneumonia, an infection of the air sacs in one or both lungs that can produce fluid in the lungs. Legionnaires’ disease symptoms can resemble common flu-like symptoms in the following forms:
- muscle aches
- loss of appetite
- difficulty breathing
- gastrointestinal symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
Officials reassured the public that Legionnaires’ disease is not passed person-to-person, and it’s easily cured with antibiotics if diagnosed early.
People at increased risk
“While most people exposed to Legionella (the bacteria that causes Legionnaires’ disease) don’t get sick, individuals ages 50 and above – especially those who smoke and have chronic lung conditions – are at a higher risk,” Bassett said. “This disease is very treatable with antibiotics. I encourage anyone with symptoms of Legionnaires’ disease to seek care early.”
Other people who are more susceptible to infection include:
- heavy drinkers of alcoholic beverages
- people with compromised immune systems
- recipients of organ transplants
- individuals who are on specific drug protocols (corticosteroids, to name one).
Legionnaires’ disease 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 Legionella bacteria (Legionella pneumophila) occur yearly in the U.S. Only 5,000 cases are reported, however, because of its nonspecific signs and symptoms.
According to the CDC, one in 10 patients infected with Legionnaires’ will die from the disease.
Legionella bacteria are contracted by inhaling microscopic water droplets, usually in the form of mist or vapor. The bacteria, which grow best in warm water, are found primarily in human-made environments.
Legionnaires’ disease clusters and outbreaks have been linked to numerous sources, such as:
- cooling towers of air conditioning systems
- large plumbing systems
- water systems, such as those used in hospitals, nursing homes, and hotels
- hot-water tanks and heaters
- showers and faucets
- swimming pools
- hot tubs and whirlpools
- equipment used in physical therapy
- mist machines and hand-held sprayers
- decorative fountains.