The ongoing Legionnaires’ outbreak has now killed seven people in the Bronx, and more than 80 people have been sickened by the pneumonia-like disease since July 10. The number of cases is expected to increase this week, city health officials warn, though they cautioned that the most at risk are the elderly and those with underlying medical conditions.
“It’s still a pretty rare disease,” deputy health commissioner Dr. Jay Varma told a packed town-hall meeting in the Bronx Monday night, where concerned residents and local leaders called for better monitoring and inspection of cooling towers, the likely source of the current outbreak. Bill de Blasio also said in a statement that the city would introduce new legislation to ramp up inspections, regulations, and sanctions for buildings to prevent future infections. Legionnella, the bacteria that causes the disease, spreads when people breathe in contaminated mist or water droplets, but it isn’t passed from person to person.
So far 17 Bronx cooling towers have been inspected, and 5 have tested positive for Legionnella, including Lincoln Hospital and the Concourse Plaza Mall. Those five sites have been decontaminated, but officials are still investigating the source of the wave of cases. According to the Times, in 2015 the city recorded more than 130 Legionnaires’ infections, mostly in the Bronx, and nationwide the number of cases has risen to 2,400. The disease was first identified (and got its name) in 1976, after attendees at an American Legion conference in Philadelphia came down with mysterious lung infections.