New York City officials are fighting to contain an outbreak of a bacterial disease that has killed 10 people so far and sickened another 108 during the worst outbreak of the disease in city history.
Officials think the Legionnaires’ disease affecting the Bronx neighborhood of New York City is being spread through the cooling towers the city uses in its buildings, commonly referred to as swamp coolers.
The spread of the disease has slowed as the city has ordered building owners with the cooling towers to disinfect them.
Saturday morning, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo sent 150 workers to test the cooling towers for the bacteria.
“Today we’re putting boots on the ground to safeguard the public health and bolster the confidence of a hard-hit community. We have one simple message for the people of the Bronx: We are here to help.”
Legionnaires’ disease is a form of pneumonia caused by bacteria that grows in warm water; it’s not passed person to person, but instead infects those who breathe in the contaminated air. It’s named after a 1976 outbreak at a Philadelphia convention that killed 34 people.
Symptoms include coughing, fatigue, and confusion.
Saturday evening, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that the city had found five sites within a ten block radius known to contain the disease. They include a Verizon building, the Bronx Housing Court, the Bronx Hall of Justice, a local high school, and a post office.
The State Health Department plans to test all 161 buildings in the Bronx by the end of the weekend for the bacteria.
The outbreak of the disease began in July, but state health inspectors weren’t sent in until after the governor received a call for help from Bronx borough president Ruben Diaz Jr.
Prior to that, the city had sent out notices to building owners ordering them to test and disinfect their cooling towers within two weeks.
Two weeks was too long to wait for the governor and state health officials, however, as they ordered immediate testing be done to protect the health of area residents.
State Health Department officials have been interacting with the Center for Disease Control to test and disinfect contaminated cooling towers since Friday.
A press conference Saturday showed the city’s health officials slightly at odds with the CDC medical officials who were both vying to answer a reporter’s question.
City and state officials also squabbled back in October over the outbreak of Ebola and the proper treatment of patients.
The state of New York diagnoses about 540 people annually with Legionnaires’ disease.
[Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images]