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Elliot Olsen has decades of experience representing people harmed by Legionnaires’ disease, and he has regained millions of dollars for them. If you or a family member have contracted Legionnaires’ disease in New York City, please call (612) 337-6126 for a free consultation.

New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) confirmed that two of its employees, working out of separate locations, have been diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease.

A highway patrol officer with MTA’s Bridge and Tunnel division, based at the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge administration offices on Staten Island, was hospitalized. He was released after his health improved, according to Wayne Joseph, president of the Bridge and Tunnel Officers Benevolent Association (BTOBA). The officer, a 14-year veteran of the MTA, travels to multiple locations as part of his duty.

A second employee, working out of Randall’s Island in Queens who is not a member of the BTOBA, also was diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease, a severe respiratory illness. They were treated and discharged.

It’s unknown where or how either employee contracted the disease. Their names, ages, and genders were not released.

Two additional MTA employees – a lieutenant and a maintenance worker – were suffering Legionnaires’-like symptoms (see symptoms list below) and instructed by a doctor to “not to return to work,” Joseph said. Neither has been diagnosed with the disease.

Joseph also said a group of sergeants and lieutenants is awaiting test results for Legionnaires’ disease, so the number of infected could grow.

Investigation underway
“Out of an abundance of caution, we are working with the State Health Department to conduct a full investigation,” the MTA said in a statement.

The MTA is North America’s most extensive public transportation network, serving a population of 15.3 million people within the 5,000-square-mile area extending from the five boroughs (Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens and Staten Island) of New York City through Long Island, southeastern New York State, and Connecticut.

Showers temporarily shut down
A memo sent by Renee Shepherd, director of MTA Bridges South, warned employees at the Staten Island location that the showers were temporarily shuttered but without explaining why. Yellow hazard tape cordoned off three shower stalls at the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge facility.

Shepherd’s memo read: “Please be advised that until further notice, the showers in this area are not to be used. I apologize for any inconvenience.”

CBS2 said sources informed the station that Legionella – the bacteria that causes Legionnaires’ disease – was discovered in the shower heads at the Verrazano-Narrows bridge facility.

It is recommended that MTA employees who are feeling flu-like symptoms seek care from their health-care provider immediately.

Legionella troubling NYC again
It has been another busy summer for Legionnaires’ disease in New York City.

On July 8, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) confirmed eight cases of Legionnaires’ disease in lower Washington Heights and upper Hamilton Heights. Since then, the case count has more than tripled, and it currently stands at 27 with one death.

According to Joseph, the Staten Island officer had “not patrolled or been in Washington Heights.”

Later in July, two cases of Legionnaires’ disease were confirmed at Clinton Manor, a property for Section 8 tenants in Hell’s Kitchen. Health officials also confirmed that Legionella bacteria were found in the water supply of the Jacobi Medical Center in the Bronx.

Bronx outbreak killed 12 in 2015
The largest outbreak in New York City history occurred in 2015. Contaminated cooling towers were blamed for producing Legionnaires’ disease that killed 12 people and sickened more than 120 others in the south Bronx.

Every year, between 200 and 500 people are diagnosed with the disease in NYC, city health officials said.

Legionnaires’ disease info

Legionnaires’ disease – also known as legionellosis and Legionella pneumonia – is similar to other types of pneumonia, which is an infection of the air sacs in one or both lungs that might produce fluid in the lungs. Symptoms can resemble flu-like symptoms in the following forms:

  • cough
  • difficulty breathing
  • fever
  • muscle aches
  • headaches
  • gastrointestinal symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Legionnaires’ disease is not passed person-to-person, and it’s easily cured with antibiotics if diagnosed early.

The severity of the illness is illustrated in a new Epidemiology & Infection study at the University of Minnesota. Based on data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS), “approximately 9 percent of legionellosis cases, caused by waterborne Legionella bacteria, are fatal, and 40 percent require intensive care.”

An underreported disease
According to the 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.

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.

Heat, humidity aid Legionella
Legionnaires’ disease occurs more frequently in hot, humid weather because Legionella bacteria grow best in warm water. The bacteria are found primarily in human-made environments.

According to Laura Cooley, MD, MPH from the CDC’s Respiratory Diseases Branch, Legionnaires’ disease is “an emerging disease in the sense that the number of recorded cases of Legionnaires’ in the United States continues to increase.”

Cooley said she believes the increase is due to an increase in the susceptibility of the population – that is, more and more people are using immunosuppressive medications. She also said there could be more Legionella in the environment because warmer temperatures are creating the right conditions for bacterial growth.

Legionella sources
Outbreaks have been linked to a number of sources:

  • water systems, such as those used in apartment complexes, hospitals, nursing homes, and hotels
  • the cooling towers of air conditioning systems
  • large plumbing systems
  • 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.