Health officials in New York State have ordered inspections of cooling facilities in an attempt to stop the worst out break of Legionnaires' disease that New York City has ever seen. 10 people are now dead, and 101 are infected.
State officials are working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to suppress this outbreak, Commissioner of Health for New York State, Dr. Howard Zucker, said during a press conference Friday afternoon.
“While it is clearly a significant outbreak in the Bronx, this is a state-wide issue, and the governor is monitoring Legionnaire’s statewide,” Zucker said.
The state plans to send teams to each cooling tower so they can begin testing and identifying all that are at risk.
“We want to be confident that every cooling tower in this city is clean," said Dr. Mary Bassett, commissioner of the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. “The city will be taking a lead for the nation in making sure our cooling towers are safe."
Legionnaires' disease causes pneumonia-like symptoms, but it isn’t transmitted from person to person. It is contracted by contact with the bacterium Legionella. The problem is that the bacteria thrives in warm water, and it becomes especially dangerous when the water is turned into a mist that can be inhaled. Researchers have linked the outbreak to public fountains, spas, spas, misters for fruit in the grocery stores and showers.
So far five towers in New York City have tested positive for the deadly bacteria, and now investigators are trying to determines which (if any) of the towers is responsible for harboring the bacteria.
According to the New York City Department of Health, walking into air conditioned rooms does not put you at risk for contacting the disease.
The New York City Health Commissioner issued an order to all building owners with cooling towers to disinfect the towers. They have 14 days after receiving the email to carry out the order. .
NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio said Thrusday that "Everyone understands that the outbreak has been limited to one community in our city. We’re doing this out of an abundance of caution."It is estimated that there are 2,500 cooling towers throughout the city.
The CDC estimates that there is up to 18,000 cases of hospitalized Legionnaires' disease in the U.S every year. But that number could be even higher with some cases going unreported.
One outbreak in 1994 occurred on a cruise ship between New York and Bermuda. Whirlpool tubs were the cause. In 1985 in England, 22 people died in a hospital after contracting the disease. In 2010, a waterfall in a hospital lobby was the cause of another outbreak that cause 8 people to fall ill with the disease. What are the symptoms of Legionnaires' disease?
A. Early symptoms of similar to the flu. Usually within a couple of days the symptoms become more like pneumonia. Not all people with Legionnaires' disease experience the same symptoms. Some may have only suffer from flu-like symptoms. But for others it can be fatal.
Early symptoms may include:
- Slight fever
- Aching joints and muscles
- Lack of energy, tiredness
- Loss of appetite
Common pneumonia-like symptoms:
- High fever (102° to 105°F, or 39° to 41°C)
- Cough (dry at first, later producing phlegm)
- Difficulty in breathing or shortness of breath
- Chest pains
These type of outbreaks although unfortunate, serve as reminders of the importance of hand-washing. Especially healthcare workers and people who prepare foods for public consumption.