8 sickened by Legionnaires’ cluster in Washington Heights

WASHINGTON HEIGHTS, Manhattan — Eight cases of Legionnaires' disease have been reported in lower Washington Heights over the last week, health officials said Wednesday.

All but one has been hospitalized and one person has been discharged, officials said. No deaths have been reported.

“The Health Department has identified a cluster of Legionnaires disease in the Lower Washington Heights area,” Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett said. “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 disease is spread by breathing in water vapor containing the legionnella bacteria, health officials said.

Preliminary results of tests of water samples are expected sometime Thursday and final results are expected in two weeks. A team of health inspectors will be continuing their search of cooling towers to track the source of the legionnaires cluster.  To address the concerns of the community, health officials have scheduled a public meeting at 7 p.m.  Thursday at St Luke's AME Church on Amsterdam Avenue.

WHAT IS LEGIONNAIRES' DISEASE?

Legionnaires’ disease is a treatable infection using antibiotics for pneumonia. Every year, there are between 200 and 400 cases of Legionnaires’ disease in the city.

Legionnaires’ disease is caused by the bacteria Legionella.

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.

Legionnaires’ disease cannot be spread from person to person. Groups at highest risk for Legionnaires’ disease include people who are middle-aged or older, especially cigarette smokers, people with chronic lung disease or weakened immune systems and people who take medicines that weaken their immune systems (immunosuppressive drugs). Those with symptoms should call their doctor and ask about testing for Legionnaires’ disease.

SYMPTOMS

Symptoms include fever, cough, chills, muscle aches, headache, fatigue, loss of appetite, confusion and diarrhea. Symptoms usually appear two to 10 days after significant exposure to Legionella bacteria.

The Health Department is urging residents in the area with respiratory symptoms, such as fever, cough, chills and muscle aches, to promptly seek medical attention. The Health Department has alerted health care providers in the area about this cluster.

TREATMENT

Legionnaires’ disease can be deadly, but is treatable with antibiotics. Most people get better with early treatment, although they may need to be hospitalized. Others have died from complications of the disease.