In 1976, the American public became aware of a previously unrecognized disease, when 221 out of the more than 2,000 people who attended an American Legion convention in Philadelphia became sick with a form of atypical pneumonia that caused chills, fever, a cough and other flu-like symptoms.
Of the 221 people who caught the disease, 34 died. The disease was named Legionnaires’ disease, and the bacteria that causes it was named Legionella pneumophilia, popularly known as just Legionella.
Over the years, many people forgot about the disease, but it didn’t go away. In July and August of 2015, the disease affected at least 110 people in Lincoln Hospital, the Concourse Plaza shopping mall and several other buildings, all in the southern part of the Bronx.
A reported dozen people died, all of whom also had suffered from other medical conditions. The authorities traced the problem to the cooling towers of the affected buildings, and ordered that they be decontaminated within 14 days.
One of the five buildings, the Opera House Hotel, is a residential building (a boutique hotel in an old theater building where performers like the Marx Brothers once played). More relevant for readers of this publication, there was an earlier outbreak in January 2015 in Co-op City, the huge Mitchell-Lama co-op in the northeast Bronx, where eight people were affected. But this was a much less severe incident. In Co-op City, according to the city Health Department, preliminary tests also found that cooling towers were at risk.