Legionnaires' Cases Reported in Washington Heights Cooling Towers Have Been Linked to the Disease


Updated July 17, 2018

The New York City Department of Health announced last week that it is investigating several cases of Legionnaires' disease in the lower Washington Heights section of Manhattan. As of July 17, there was one death from the disease out of the 18 people diagnosed, according to health officials, CBS2 News reported. 

“The Health Department has identified a cluster of Legionnaires disease in the Lower Washington Heights area,” Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett said in a press statement. “While most people exposed to Legionella don’t get sick, individuals ages 50 and above, especially those who smoke and have chronic lung conditions, are at a higher risk. This disease is very treatable with antibiotics. I encourage anyone with symptoms of Legionnaires’ disease to seek care early.”

The department said it was testing every cooling tower system in that part of Washington Heights.

Legionnaires' is a form of pneumonia, said the department, caused by the Legionella bacteria, which grow in warm water. People become ill after breathing in water vapor that contains the bacteria. It is not contagious, and therefore does not transmit from person to person.

Among the flu-like symptoms of Legionnaires' include fever, cough, chills and muscle aches; others may include headaches and diarrhea. Those with symptoms should seek medical attention immediately.

A prior outbreak of Legionnaires' that occurred in the South Bronx in 2015 was also attributed to cooling towers in multifamily buildings. That episode prompted the city to mandate that all building owners register and test their cooling towers, fluid coolers, and evaporative condensers. (Registration can be done online here). Building owners are also required to file an annual certification that proves that the cooling equipment was inspected, tested, cleaned, and disinfected under the Maintenance Program and Plan.

Most cases of Legionnaires’ disease can be traced to plumbing systems where conditions are favorable for Legionella growth, such as cooling towers, whirlpool spas, hot tubs, humidifiers, hot water tanks, and evaporative condensers of large air-conditioning systems,” said the department.

David Chiu is an associate editor at The Cooperator. 

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