Hot water back on at Melrose Houses after discovery of Legionella

This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

SOUTH BRONX — Residents in a South Bronx housing complex where the bacterium that causes Legionnaires’ disease was found have been given the OK to once again bathe in and drink the hot water coming from their faucets, according to the New York City Housing Authority.

Hot water was shut off earlier this week to a building in the Melrose Houses that tested positive for Legionella, city health officials said. Health commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett said Wednesday crews would install in each apartment water filters that eliminate the bacteria.

By Thursday night, those installations were complete, a NYCHA spokesperson said. New filters were added to faucets and shower heads inside 109 apartments.

Three buildings at the complex have been tested for the bacterium: 681 Cortlandt Ave. came back positive; 304 East 156th Street and 700 Morris Ave. tested negative. Test results for five other buildings are still pending, the spokesperson said.

The Melrose Houses is comprised of eight 14-story buildings with 1,020 apartments, according to NYCHA. About 2,670 residents live in the complex.

There are extra filters on hand in case another building is found to have Legionella present in the water, the spokesperson said.

Also on Thursday, NYCHA installed and activated a water ionization system to treat the water in the building by releasing ions that kill the bacteria, the agency said.

There have been a total of four Legionnaires’ cases in the Melrose Houses, Bassett said: one earlier this year; two during the recently ended South Bronx outbreak; and this most recent case. One of those patients is currently in the hospital, Bassett said.

Legionnaires’ disease was first discovered in 1976 during a Philadelphia convention of the American Legion. It’s a severe form of pneumonia that is usually easily treated with antibiotics if caught early, but can be deadly in patients with underlying health problems, city health officials said. It cannot be spread from person to person but rather infects patients who breathe in mist contaminted with the bacterium Legionella.

The discovery of Legionella in the Melrose Houses came after health officials announced they’d eliminated the source of the bacterium that sparked a deadly cluster of Legionnaires’ disease in the same borough.

Called historic by health officials, the South Bronx outbreak killed 12 patients and sickened more than 100 others.

Between 8,000 and 18,000 people are hospitalized in the U.S. every year with the illness, though that number may be larger because many cases are not diagnosed or reported, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Symptoms of Legionnaires’ disease mirror those of the flu and include fever, cough and difficulty breathing, health officials said. Bassett urged anyone in New York City experiencing those ailments to seek medical attention immediately.

Earlier this week, the cooling towers at a tony Manhattan school tested postive for the bacterium that causes Legionnaires’ disease. No illnesses were traced to that cooling tower, the school’s principal said.

Convent of the Sacred Heart, a private all-girls school located on the Upper East Side, was disinfected twice, Principal Joseph Ciancaglini said. Class was not in session at the time the bacterium was discovered and students are scheduled to return next week as scheduled, Ciancaglini said.

City officials said bacterium at the school was found as a result of new legislation that requires all building owners to register their cooling towers with the city and regularly test them for Legionella, which thrives in water. That law was signed amid the deadly outbreak with the express goal of eliminating Legionella before it can make residents sick.