In Washington Heights, Manhattan, Health officials have finally breathed a sigh of relief announcing the cluster was “over”. Washington Heights unfortunately recorded one fatality due to complications with Legionnaires’ disease. This cluster sickened 27 people sending 25 of those to the hospital. Once the outbreak was confirmed, a cooling tower was found to hold the bacteria.
This time we turn our attention to the Bronx, New York, where three confirmed cases have been reported in the past few days. Health officials discovered they all live in the same residential building and became sick about the same time. Around the country, Legionnaires’ disease (Legionella bacterium) is turning up more and more each day.
Before we address Legionnaires’ and what we need to be aware of, we need to first understand what we are dealing with. Remember: knowledge is power folks.
Thankfully, the individuals who contracted Legionnaires’ have since been released from the hospital; but, Health Officials are keeping a close eye out for more. Steps are being taken where these cases came from as well as buildings in proximity.
According to PIX 11 News, this has grabbed the attention of the congressional 13th district as well: “he (Adriano Espaillat) will be calling for an immediate and comprehensive testing protocol in all NYCHA buildings in all housing complexes …” This is great news for the surrounding boroughs as well as other neighborhoods.
Legionnaires’ is a bacterium that causes pneumonia. If left unchecked, this lung infection can move from flu-like symptoms to death. OSHA states: “around 6,000 Legionnaires’ disease cases are reported each year in the United States. However, scientists believe the reported totals are much lower than the actual cases due in part to the difficulty in distinguishing Legionnaires’ disease from other types of pneumonia. The most recent U.S. population-based study estimated that 8,000-18,000 people are hospitalized each year with Legionnaires’ disease.”
Staggering numbers for something so deadly.
This one is pretty straightforward … there is no ‘food’ issues here. Legionnaires’ comes from water systems. This might seem more difficult to battle but there are a few rule to consider when we discuss this disease. When the term water is used, it is important to remember this is in mist form. It is important to differentiate drinking from inhaling: drinking enters the stomach, while inhaling enters the lungs.
This is not a disease you can contract from someone else either. Once a person breathes in mist contaminated with Legionella, they cannot pass it on to someone close to them.
The incubation period is the hardest part for Health Officials when trying to narrow down a cause. Legionnaires’ can stay in a person up to ten days before symptoms present themselves. Symptoms can include:
Notice anything odd about these symptoms? You shouldn’t. They look like common cold/flu symptoms. This is why we stress getting to a doctor quickly when your body tells you there is something wrong. Tests can be ran to give the doctor an idea why you are feeling the way you are. Without visiting the doctor, you run the risk of getting worse.
When it comes to risks, there are groups that are more acceptable:
As someone who quit smoking almost two years ago, I will not tell you the dangers of smoking here; I will simply tell you to quit if you value your health, life, and the lives of those who love you.
So what happens if you don’t seek medical help? Long term issues can affect your quality of life. Outbreak survivors reported persistence in fatigue, neurological symptoms, and neuromuscular symptoms for months after the initial outbreak. This is also not taking into account the real danger of death if left untreated.
Unlike certain food safety tips, I cannot tell you to stay away from water. There are however, tips to keep in mind when the possibility of breathing in water could lead to Legionnaires’ disease. Living in larger housing apartments could also lead to higher danger levels and there are steps to ensure you are safe as well.
Legionella grows better in warm water. This includes: Whirlpools, spas, hot tubs, humidifiers, and hot water tanks. In order to keep the bacterium from growing, washing out pipes and water systems should be a regular occurrence. Of course, this is more difficult of you live in an apartment building so getting information to your landlord will help you and your neighbors. The CDC developed a toolkit for download on Water Management Programs for buildings in order to help owners know what to do to keep their tenants safe. Communicate with your building owners to see if this procedure is already in place.
The question I am asked more than any when people find out I contribute to a food safety site is: how can I stay safe? If I had all of the answers we would not be here learning them together. I try to set a good example to my family and friends. We stay diligent when it comes to reading about the latest outbreak. I follow food safety practices every day when cooking meals or eating out. But is it enough?
We all need to stay aware of what is happening around us when it comes to the food we eat. My advice when asked: stay informed. Taking the time to read about certain food safety issues and outbreaks is the best place to start. Here at makefoodsafe.com, there is a wealth of information. If there is something you would like to know about that you do not see here please contact us. In the meantime, stay informed and stay safe.
If you believe you have developed Legionnaires’ disease, we want you to know that a Legionnaires’ Lawyer at the Lange Law Firm, PLLC is currently investigating this matter and offering free legal consultations. Our lawyer, Jory Lange became a lawyer to help make our communities and families safer.
If you or a loved one have become ill with Legionnaires’ disease, you can call 833.330.3663 for a free consultation or complete the form here.
By: Dwight Spencer, Contributing Writer (Non-Lawyer)