30 Jul 2015 07:59 PM EST
-by Anthony Bell, Contributing Writer; Image: Legionella pneumophila, the bacteria responsible for over 90 percent of Legionnaires’ disease cases (Image Source: CDC / Public Domain)
New York City health officials are reporting that 46 cases of Legionnaires’ disease have been confirmed in the Bronx since July 10, and two people have died of the “unusual” outbreak so far.
The total number of cases are up from 31, reported on Wednesday. The cases are primarily in High Bridge, Morrisania, Hunts Point and Mott Haven, according to the Health Department.
So far, according to NBC New York, a man and a woman in their 50s have died, though authorities note that both had other lung problems alongside the disease. Their identities have not yet been released.
Legionnaires’ disease is a severe and often deadly form of pneumonia spread through the air, caused by exposure to the bacteria Legionella. In most cases, exposure results from breathing in contaminated air from cooling towers, showers, faucets, drinking water or hot tubs. Authorities, however, believe that contaminated water is not to blame.
“The water supply in the south Bronx remains entirely safe,” noted Health Commissioner Mary Bassett during a news briefing Thursday. “We don't know the source of this outbreak, but in recent months we have seen outbreaks associated with cooling towers and that's why we're focusing on them.”
“We’re testing every cooling tower we can find in the area,” she added.
So far, two rooftop cooling towers tested positive for contamination. One tower is located at Lincoln Hospital, while the other is at a private housing facility. So far, 20 towers have been tested so far with another 10 on Thursday. The results for Thursday’s tests are expected within a day, authorities note.
Both contaminated towers were being disinfected Thursday, and the decontamination should be completed by Friday afternoon.
Mayor Bill de Blasio and Bassett both said that there was no evidence of contamination within Lincoln Hospital, though the hospital did confirm that it is treating patients with the disease. But Bassett did note that no other person at the facility—neither patients nor employees—have contracted the disease.
Both de Blasio and Bassett added stressed there was no concern for alarm.
“People have to understand that this is a disease that can be treated—and can be treated well if caught early,” de Blasio explained. “The exception can be with folks who are already unfortunately suffering from health challenges, particularly immune system challenges. But for the vast majority of New Yorkers, if they were even exposed, this can be addressed very well and very quickly so long as they seek medical treatment.”
Legionnaires' disease cannot be spread person-to-person, and those at the highest risk of contracting it include the elderly, people with lung or immune system disease, cigarette smokers, or people receiving immunosuppressive drugs. The illness sets in two to 10 days after exposure, and the symptoms are similar to those of pneumonia: shortness of breath, high fever, chills and chest pains. Patients may also experience appetite loss, confusion, fatigue and muscle aches. Most cases are treatable with antibiotics.
The Health Department urges anyone with similar symptoms to seek immediate medical attention.
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