Sick with Legionnaires’ disease?
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Health officials said they found the source of the Legionella bacteria that sickened more than two dozen people with Legionnaires’ disease in upper Manhattan.
The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) identified a cooling tower at the Sugar Hill Project in Harlem as the culprit for the outbreak that infected 27 people, including one who died, in Washington Heights and Hamilton Heights. Twenty-five people were hospitalized; two remain hospitalized.
“I am relieved that the ‘cluster’ of Legionnaires’ disease in lower Washington Heights is over,” DOHMH commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett said in a news release. “After an extensive investigation, the Health Department has identified the cooling tower at the Sugar Hill Project as the most likely source of the ‘cluster.’ ”
Analysis of human and cooling tower specimens matched Legionella strains from the Sugar Hill cooling tower and six patients from the Legionnaires’ disease outbreak, which first made headlines July 11. (Now that a source has been identified, the “cluster” can be reclassified as an “outbreak.”) Legionella is the bacteria that causes the deadly respiratory illness.
The cooling tower was disinfected in mid-July. No new cases of Legionnaires’ disease have been reported in three weeks, and the DOHMH has closed its investigation.
Despite the closing of the investigation and the fact that residents are not at an increased risk of Legionnaires’ disease, the DOHMH encourages any New Yorkers with flu-like symptoms to seek care from their health-care provider.
Sugar Hill Project, which opened in 2015, is a 13-story, 191,500-square-foot, mixed-use development located in Manhattan’s historic Sugar Hill district of Harlem. It has 124 affordable housing units for low-income families, including 25 residences for the formerly homeless. It also features the 17,600-squarefoot Children’s Museum of Art & Storytelling on the ground floor, as well as an 11,600-square-foot, early-childhood education center on the second floor.
Sugar Hill Project is located at 898 St. Nicholas Avenue at West 155th Street.
What is Legionnaires’ disease?
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.
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.
Where do Legionella live?
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.
What are the diseases’ symptoms?
Legionnaires’ disease is similar to other types of pneumonia, and its symptoms can resemble those of flu, such as:
- difficulty breathing
- muscle aches
- gastrointestinal symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
NYC’s top doctor leaving for Harvard
Bassett, who has overseen the DOHMH since January 2014, announced this month that she is leaving the department at the end of the month to become the director of the François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights and the François-Xavier Bagnoud professor of the practice of health and human rights at the T.H. Chan School of Public Health at Harvard University.
First Deputy Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot will serve as acting health commissioner until a permanent replacement has been named.