The death toll in the Legionnaires‘ outbreak in New York City continues to climb, with USA Today reporting that a fourth person has died from the disease and eight additional people have contracted it, bringing the total number of people affected to 65.
New York City’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene gave an update on the outbreak on Saturday, noting that 20 out of the 65 people affected have been successfully treated to date. The four people who have died from Legionnaires’ disease in the city were said to be older adults who had other medical problems.
The Health Department states that it is currently testing water from cooling towers “and other potential sources” in an effort to determine the source of the outbreak. Several buildings in the city have already tested positive for the bacteria, including the Concourse Plaza, Opera House Hotel, a Verizon office building, Streamline Plastic, and the Lincoln Medical Center.
According to Legionella.org, the disease is a form of pneumonia, and is caused by bacteria found in contaminated plumbing systems. People can become contaminated by breathing in mist or vapor from air conditioning units in large buildings (like hotels and nursing homes), whirlpool spas, swimming pools, and water used for drinking or bathing.
Statistics from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) indicate that less than five percent of people who are exposed to the bacteria will develop symptoms. However, for every 20 people who do contract the disease, anywhere from one to six will die. People who are most at risk of getting sick are typically over 50, smokers, people with weakened immune systems, and those with chronic lung disease.
What are the symptoms of Legionnaires’ disease? According to the Mayo Clinic, the illness usually starts out with a headache, muscle pain, chills, and a fever that may be 104 F or higher. Two to three days after the onset of the initial symptoms, most people will develop other signs that they have the disease, including, but not limited to, a cough, shortness of breath, chest pain, nausea, and vomiting.
Although the death toll in NYC is rising, many people can be successfully treated with antibiotics after they contract Legionnaires’ disease. The CDC advises that anyone with symptoms should contact their doctor, but those who are at high risk should seek immediate treatment.