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Deadly Legionnaires’ cluster in Washington Heights is ‘over’: official

WASHINGTON HEIGHTS, Manhattan — An investigation into a cluster of Legionnaires’ disease in Manhattan that killed a patient is over, the city health department said Tuesday, revealing that there have been no new cases of the illness in three weeks and the likely source of the cluster has been identified.

The strain of Legionella — the bacteria that causes Legionnaires’ disease — found in a cooling tower at The Sugar Hill Project on St. Nicholas Avenue and West 155th Street matches the strains collected from six patients in the lower Washington Heights cluster, the department said.

The cases were first reported on July 11. Two days later, that cooling tower was cleaned and disinfected.

In all, 27 cases of Legionnaires’ disease have been linked to the cluster. Of those 27 patients, 25 were hospitalized and one died.

Health commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett said she’s “relieved” that the cluster is “over.”

Patients can contract Legionnaires’ disease, a serious type of pneumonia, when they breathe in small, airborne droplets of water that contain the bacteria, which can grow in a building’s water system.

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

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.

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.

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.