New York Moves to Stop Outbreaks of Legionnaires’ Disease

Following an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in the Bronx, 12 people have died and 119 cases had been reported as of August 10, 2015. Epidemiologists traced the source of the outbreak to cooling towers in 18 buildings. All of these towers tested positive for the bacteria that cause this disease.

This outbreak is the largest in the history of New York City, and both Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo are taking steps to minimize the sources of this potentially lethal infection. Remarkably, there is little state oversight of cooling units in nursing homes, hospitals, or apartments.

Every cooling tower in the vicinity of the infections has been ordered to be disinfected. Cuomo and de Blasio are working on joint regulations and legislation to mandate the maintenance and testing of cooling towers, fine those who do not comply, and compile a statewide registry. de Blasio said in a statement that these regulations would be the first of their kind for a major American city, as well as the first by any state.

While other areas of New York state see sporadic outbreaks, very few of them have the concentration of housing that New York City has. Thus, the risk for an outbreak is lower. The New York State Health Department website states that fewer than 100 cases are reported outside of New York City each year and that most occur as single isolated events. According to Dr Sherlita Amier, the Westchester County health commissioner who was quoted in USA Today, health authorities frequently never find the source of the infection when sporadic cases strike in other counties.

There is some concern about who would pay for the increased inspections and oversight of the buildings particularly in parts of New York that have a lower population density than New York City.

Legionnaire’s disease is caused by exposure to legionella bacteria. Symptoms usually develop 2-10 days after exposure and frequently begin with headache, muscle pain, chills, and a fever that may be as high as 104 F. You should see your doctor immediately if you think you’ve been exposed to the bacteria. Prompt treatment is critical for high risk patients.