Sick with Legionnaires’ disease?
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The city of New York continues to fight a losing battle against Legionnaires’ disease as two separate incidents were confirmed in two New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) developments – in Harlem and the Bronx.
Three sickened in Harlem outbreak
Three people were confirmed with Legionnaires’ disease at the Saint Nicholas Houses in Manhattan. All three victims were hospitalized, but they have already been released. No additional information about the patients was released.
The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) detected elevated levels of Legionella bacteria in six of 13 water tanks that were tested at the public housing project. (Legionella is the bacteria that causes Legionnaires’ disease.) Testing was performed by the NYCHA about two weeks ago. Remediation efforts have been conducted, including the draining and cleaning of the tanks.
Saint Nicholas Houses in Central Harlem is located between Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard and Frederick Douglass Boulevard, spanning a superblock from 127th Street to 131st Street, according to Wikipedia. The project consists of thirteen 14-story buildings containing 1,523 apartment units.
Two sickened in Bronx cluster
Two people were sickened with Legionnaires’ disease at Fort Independence Houses in the Bronx. One of the cases occurred recently, while the other was diagnosed within the past 12 months.
Health officials said they would investigate Fort Independence’s plumbing for the existence of Legionella.
Fort Independence is a 21-story housing development with 346 units, located at 3340 Bailey Avenue in the Kingsbridge Heights neighborhood.
Watch for symptoms
If you live, work or travel through the vicinity of Saint Nicholas Houses or Fort Independence Houses, you should be overly cautious. If you are feeling sick, it’s recommended you see your health-care provider immediately out of an abundance of caution.
Legionnaires’ disease symptoms are similar to those of other types of pneumonia, and they can even resemble those of influenza (flu). Those symptoms include:
- difficulty breathing
- muscle aches
- gastrointestinal symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
Legionnaires’ disease is a severe type of pneumonia (lung infection), which is treatable with antibiotics when diagnosed early. It is not contagious; that is, it cannot be passed from person to person.
Outbreak or cluster?
Clusters and outbreaks are where multiple cases are reported in or around the same proximity and within a designated period.
The incident at Saint Nicholas is considered an “outbreak” because the three illnesses were reported within days or weeks, rather than months, and occurred in a more limited geographic area.
The incident at Fort Independence is considered a “cluster” because the two illnesses occurred in the same general vicinity within a period of three to 12 months.
Legionella troubling NYC again
It has been another busy summer for Legionnaires’ disease in New York City:
- In August, the DOHMH identified a cooling tower at the Sugar Hill Project in Harlem as the culprit for an outbreak that infected 27 people, including one who died, in the upper Manhattan neighborhoods of Washington Heights and Hamilton Heights.
- Also in August, New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) confirmed that two of its employees, working out of separate locations, were diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease.
- In late July, two cases were confirmed at Clinton Manor, a property for Section 8 tenants in the Manhattan neighborhood of Hell’s Kitchen.
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.
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.
People at increased risk
Most people exposed to Legionella do not get sick, but people 50 years old and older – especially those who smoke and have chronic lung conditions – are at a higher risk.
Other people 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).