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The health department is evaluating the water system at a NYC Housing Authority (NYCHA) apartment complex in Harlem after two residents were sickened with Legionnaires’ disease in the past year.
Residents of the Drew Hamilton Houses — located on Frederick Douglass Boulevard — received letters in the mail that two of the complex’s buildings are being evaluated for Legionella bacteria, according to the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH). Drew Hamilton Houses is a 734-unit affordable housing community.
The DOHMH’s public notification protocol for Legionnaires’ disease requires health officials to inform tenants when there are two or more cases reported at a single building in a 12-month period.
Harlem Legionnaires: Water system suspected
Last year, two outbreaks in Upper Manhattan killed two and infected 59, and the cooling tower at Harlem’s Sugar Hill Project was the source for both outbreaks. Drew Hamilton Houses does not have a cooling tower, which is why the water system is the leading suspect.
Legionella are contracted by inhaling microscopic water droplets in the form of mist or vapor. The bacteria, which thrive in warm water, are found primarily in human-made environments, such as:
- air-conditioning system cooling towers
- large plumbing systems
- water systems of large buildings (hospitals, nursing homes, hotels, etc.)
- hot-water heaters and tanks
- bathroom showers and faucets
- swimming pools
- whirlpools and hot tubs
- physical-therapy equipment
- mist machines and hand-held sprayers
- decorative fountains.
Harlem Legionnaires: Precautions advised
The department is evaluating Drew Hamilton Houses’ water system and will test it for Legionella. Tenants still can use and drink the water, but residents are reminded that even fast-running water in someone’s sink – warm or cool – can create vapor that can be inhaled, so practice these precautions:
- Don’t shower – instead, take a bath, filling the tub slowly, and minimizing your time in the bathroom while the water is running.
- Wash dishes but fill the sink slowly to avoid creating a mist.
- Drink cold water from the tap and start with cold water when heating water for coffee, tea, or cooking.
- Wash your hands.
- You do not need to wear a mask.
Harlem Legionnaires: high-risk groups
Most people exposed to Legionella do not get sick, but people 50 years old and older – especially those who smoke or have chronic lung conditions – are at a higher risk.
Other people more susceptible to infection include:
- recipients of organ transplants
- individuals who are on specific drug protocols (corticosteroids, to name one)
- heavy drinkers of alcoholic beverages
- people with suppressed immune systems
After Legionnaires’ disease has been diagnosed, hospitalization is often necessary. In the most severe Legionnaires cases, complications can include respiratory failure, kidney failure, septic shock, or even death.
About 10 percent of people infected with Legionella will die from the infection.
Elsewhere in NYC
Water restrictions extended for The Brielle at Seaview: Residents at The Brielle at Seaview in Staten Island were told to continue to follow DOHMH water restrictions after the facility’s water supply tested positive for Legionella.
“Until we receive the results from the August 1 testing, the DOH has decided to maintain their recommendation for water restriction,” a letter to residents read.
One unoccupied room out of 26 test sites at the non-profit, assisted-living facility, collected on July 1, came back positive for the bacteria. Legionella was not present in results from June 11 testing, which was collected after a second resident within a year was diagnosed with Legionnaires.
This is the second water restriction at The Brielle in the past year. A five-month water restriction was lifted in April after the first illness was confirmed last November.
“The Brielle has spared no expense to monitor the system and mitigate this problem,” a spokesperson for The Brielle said, “and as evidenced by the fact that 25 out of 26 samples were negative, it is working.”
After the November diagnosis, officials at The Brielle installed a $50,000 supplemental disinfectant system that cost $15,000 to install. The electronic system was designed for 24/7 monitoring of bacteria and chlorine levels in the facility’s water system and alert management of abnormalities.
Both residents have recovered, although no additional information on either was released. The illnesses represent the third time in four years that a resident at The Brielle contracted Legionnaires’ disease; the first illness occurred in 2016.