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Outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in NY caused by cooling tower systems

legionella in cooling tower systemsIn mid-June, a Legionnaires‘ disease outbreak in the Lenox Hill area in NY lead to the unfortunate death of someone in their 90’s and multiple people being hospitalized. At the time of this outbreak Health Commissioner, Dr. Mary Bassett indicated that the department identified an increase and cluster of Legionnaires‘ disease within a half kilometer radius of the area and is investigating to determine the source.

A  fact sheet was released in early July with an update to the situation. It found that through this investigation, the city has identified 42 cooling tower systems tested positive for ​Legionella, of which 24 neighborhood cooling-tower systems contained traces of the ​Legionella bacteria that could lead to human disease. All of the cooling towers that tested positive have been cleaned and disinfected.

​Legionella-contaminated mist emitted from the cooling towers was the issue.

According to the investigation,  it is not believed that the infection spread through the drinking or bathing water but is more likely that the mist emitted from the cooling towers was the issue. This was noted in a panel discussion at the Lenox Hill Neighborhood House by the Department of Health.

After the initial outbreak on June 16th and 17th, the Department of Health took the time to canvas the area and inform the residents of the risk presented. Residents were also informed to report if they were experiencing any of the symptoms of the disease. The symptoms usually appear between two and ten days after “significant exposure,” to Legionella bacteria, the agency stated. Symptoms are flu-like and include fever, coughing, and headache, as well as exhaustion, confusion, loss of appetite, and gastrointestinal issues such as diarrhea.

If you are experiencing symptoms and think you are infected with Legionnaires‘ disease reporting the possible contamination/infection is highly important.

Since the initial report, an additional person contracted Legionnaires’ disease making the total number of infected cases 8, including one death. This event shows how important testing and regulations based on regular sampling are. A law passed after a much larger outbreak in New Jersey* (2015) requiring cooling towers be tested for bacteria quarterly and to conduct surprise inspections by the DOH.

The mortality resulting from this case was of an elderly individual, which is one of the high-risk population alongside immunocompromised people and small children.

We have much more information about Legionella and Legionnaires disease check out more information here and to learn more about water testing and analysis you can find more information here.
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