Two dead, 31 sickened amid ‘unusual’ Legionnaire’s outbreak in South Bronx

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SOUTH BRONX — An “unusual” outbreak of Legionnaire’s disease in the South Bronx has sickened at least 31 people and may be linked to two deaths, the New York City Health Department said Wednesday.

“We are concerned about this unusual increase in Legionnaires’ disease cases in the South Bronx,” Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett said. “We are conducting a swift investigation to determine the source of the outbreak and prevent future cases. I urge anyone with symptoms to seek medical attention right away.”

Since July 10, there have been 31 confirmed cases of the illness in the South Bronx. City health officials in January announced a Legionnaire's outbreak in Co-op City, where the bacteria was found in cooling towers.

A severe form of pneumonia, Legionnaire's disease is caused by the bacteria Legionella. Symptoms include fever, cough, chills, headache, fatigue, loss of appetite, confusion and diarrhea, and typically appear two to 10 days after "significant" exposure to the bacteria, health officials said.

Legionnaire's disease is spread not person to person but, most often, through water and plumbing systems, like hot water tanks, cooling towers and large air-conditioning systems, health officials said.

Bassett said city investigators are testing water from cooling towers that serve the affected neighborhoods in their attempt to pinpoint the source of the bacteria.

If diagnosed early enough, Legionnaire's disease is usually cured with antibiotics, according to the Mayo Clinic. The elderly, smokers and people with weakened immune systems are especially susceptible to the illness.