City finds Legionnella’ bacteria in two area cooling towers

City pinpoints source of latest Legionnaire’s outbreak to at least two cooling towers in the South Bronx.

City officials are continuing to investigate the source of an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in Hunts Point, Mott Haven, Morrisania and Highbridge that has sickened at least 46 people and led to two deaths since July 10.

At a July 30 press conference, city officials said they found bacteria in two rooftop cooling units in the South Bronx—Lincoln Medical Center in Mott Haven and Concourse Plaza.

Decontamination procedures have begun at both sites after the towers tested positive for Legionella, the bacteria that causes the disease. The city says it is testing about 20 sites in the area.

Rooftop cooling units emit a mist that could spread bacteria that may have formed because of the recent hot weather.

But health officials stressed that there is no contamination inside Lincoln Medical Center itself.

“Most New Yorkers are not at risk of contracting Legionnaires’ disease,” said Dr. Mary Bassett, commissioner of the health department.

Legionnaires’, a type of pneumonia, can be treated with antibiotics. The disease is not contagious. It primarily affects people who are older and have weakened immune systems or respiratory problems. The two people who died of the disease this month were in their 50s and were said to be suffering from other illnesses.

Symptoms can include fever, headache, muscle aches and coughing. The city is urging people to visit their doctor’s office or an emergency room if they’re concerned about any possible symptoms.

“We know that anyone with the symptoms can get treatment right away, and in the vast majority of cases they’ll be fine,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Hunts Point-based Urban Health Plan, which runs several area clinics, said it has not received any patients with symptoms of the illness. Dr. Viju Jacob, associate medical director at Bella Vista Health Center on Hunts Point Avenue, echoed the city’s advice and noted that the disease is very treatable.

“The case-fatality rate has declined substantially since the disease was first described,” he said in an email, estimating it to be as low as five percent.

Although the city has confirmed that Lincoln Medical Center is currently treating patients with the disease, a representative declined to comment and directed questions to the health department.

“The Department of Health has the best information and we’ve been sharing that,” said John DeSio, director of communications for Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. “We’ll do what we can do to make sure people have good information and prevent panic.”

According to Dr. Bassett, more than 200 people in the city are hospitalized with the disease every year, on average. The most recent cases were in Co-op City and Flushing, Queens earlier this year.

The city’s disease reporting guidelines require hospitals to report suspected cases of Legionnaires’ to health authorities within 24 hours.

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