The outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in NYC now has claimed 7 patients. Previous reports said that the disease killed four in NYC and infected a reported 65 others. The current count of those infected is 81. 2,400 cases of Legionnaires’ disease have been reported this year, but the New York cases are a disturbing cluster; the most cases in three years. And it’s not over yet. Health authorities have already said they are planning for more cases. While the source of the outbreak, five cooling towers, have been cleaned and disinfected, the disease can take as much as 10 days to incubate.
There’s no evidence so far that any source of infection exists outside of the five buildings, but panicked NYC citizens are drinking bottled water in fear anyway. Twenty-two buildings in the Bronx were tested for the bacteria before the source of the outbreak was discovered. Although the disease has killed 7, twenty patients have already been treated and released. The city Health Department is conducting discussions about the disease and how it is spread to combat these fears.
Legionnaires’ disease is a form of pneumonia that is spread by inhaling Legionella bacteria found in warm water. Window air conditioners, cooling towers, hot tubs, and hot water tanks have all been confirmed as ways the bacteria is spread. It cannot be spread from one infected person to another. It is treated with antibiotics. Most of those infected will recover with treatment, but those with lung problems and immune deficiancies can be more severely affected. Anywhere from 5 to 30 percent of those infected will be among those the disease kills. It was first identified as a seperate entity in 1976, when an American Legion convention in Philadelphia produced 182 cases with 29 fatalities. The Philadelphia outbreak was so great that many died before health authorities realized there was an outbreak. Headlines at the time declared it “legion fever” and scientists declared it “the greatest epidemiological puzzle of the century.” It was feared to be everything from swine flu to a biochemical attack. In January 1977, the first signs of the bacteria were noted on slides from the victims. The outbreak was eventually tied to a infected cooling tower, just like in the NYC cases.
Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr has said that he will push for more sophisticated investigations in water inspection for disease, saying that a new inspection system was needed “just as we inspect other critical systems such as elevators.” So while the disease killed four in NYC at first and later three more, hopefully the push for a new inspection system will prevent further outbreaks.
(Photo via Wikipedia/CDC)