Outbreak of Legionnaire's Disease Sickens 31 in NYC

Jul 30, 2015, 10:43 AM ET
Digital Reporter

Legionnaires' Disease Outbreak Reported in NYC
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An outbreak of Legionnaire’s disease has infected at least 31 in New York City and health officials are racing to figure out the cause.
The deaths of two patients who also had Legionnaire's disease are being investigated by health officials.

Officials from the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene are combing the center of the outbreak in the South Bronx to search for the source of the dangerous outbreak.

Caused by a bacteria called Legionella, the infection causes a type of pneumonia that can be damaging or even fatal for those with compromised immune systems or underlying health conditions. It’s contracted when a person inhales small droplets of air or water with the bacteria and can be spread from contaminated hot tubs, fountains, cooling units for air conditioners and large plumbing systems.

“We are concerned about this unusual increase in Legionnaires’ disease cases in the South Bronx,” Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett said in a statement. “We are conducting a swift investigation to determine the source of the outbreak and prevent future cases. I urge anyone with symptoms to seek medical attention right away.”

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Symptoms of Legionnaire’s disease include coughing, shortness of breath, high fever, muscle aches or headaches.

Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, said that 31 infections constitute a large outbreak for Legionnaire’s disease and that health officials will likely look for a common source if people are in the same neighborhood.

“If they are clustered geographically … Where do they travel, where do they work, where do they worship?,” Schaffner said of the kinds of questions health officials will ask patients. “By localizing it geographically you can look up and see if you can find cooling towers that might be contaminated.”

While the large outbreak is worrying, Schaffner said people should not panic since the disease cannot be spread person to person and antibiotic treatment is available.

The disease was named after it infected numerous people at conference of the American Legion in 1976. The bacteria leads to the hospitalization of around 8,000 to 18,000 people in the U.S. every year according to the U.S. Center of Disease Control and Prevention and it is more commonly reported in the summer and early fall.