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Washington Heights’ Second Legionnaires Outbreak

Posted in Legionnaire's disease,Outbreaks & Recalls on October 10, 2018

Washington Heights is again gripped in a second Legionnaires outbreak over the course of a few months. 8 illnesses have been reported and all of them were hospitalized. However, one of them is already discharged. The infected individuals were between 40 to 80 years old. Most of the patients are over the age of 50. The illnesses were reported within the last week itself. Health department is now investigating this newly emerged Legionnaires outbreak in the area.

“The Health Department has identified a second cluster this year of Legionnaires disease in the lower Washington Heights area and we are taking aggressive steps to ensure the safety of residents”, said Dr. Oxiris Barbot, acting health department commissioner in a statement.

No additional details were provided about the outbreak apart from that there is an ongoing Legionnaires outbreak.

Legionnaires is spread by Legionella bacteria. The bacteria generally develops inside water systems when proper safety conditions are not maintained. Once they start growing, they can infect the individuals when they breathe in the mist from the contaminated water systems. The most common sources of infections are cooling towers, air conditioning units, hot tubs, whirlpools, decorative fountains, swimming pools etc.

After the recent outbreak, the health department has been quick this time around to investigate the issue. They have ordered sampling of 20 cooling towers within a mile radius. All the towers that will test positive for Legionella bacteria will be ordered to increase the levels of biocide.

“The important thing that I want to emphasize is, it gives us really an opportunity to reassure New Yorkers that even though there may be a close to an event, that doesn’t mean we don’t keep looking, right, and that’s how we found this so quickly and are taking measures to ensure that we get the message out, and then New Yorkers can seek treatment early”, Dr. Oxiris Barbot added.

The last outbreak – in July – was traced back to the cooling tower of the Sugar Hill Project – a high-rise building on St. Nicholas Avenue near West 155th Street. Officials informed that they have ordered the Sugar Hill Project to again clean and disinfect their systems once the news of illnesses came in. Most other Legionnaires outbreak in the New York city have also been traced back to the plumbing systems.

The Health Department further informed that they will hold a community meeting on Monday at The Jackie Robinson Convention Center at 85 Bradhurst Avenue at 6 PM so as to provide residents more information on the outbreak.

Summer Outbreak Details:

The outbreak caused by Sugar Hills Project cooling tower started in July 2018 and ended in August 2018. A total of 27 patients were affected by the outbreak. Most of them were above 50 as Legionnaires can easily cause illness in older individuals. 25 people were hospitalized and one death was reported due to the outbreak. The first notification came on July 11 when total outbreak count was 8. The Sugar Hill project cleaned and disinfected its tower on July 13. Since the incubation period of Legionnaires is long, the outbreak can last longer as the diseases continue to come in.

The outbreak spurred calls from local politicians for greater transparency and more severe punishments for defaulters. The current fine for those who fail to maintain safety precautions is $2000 and any successive violations can’t be fined more than $5000. For failed inspection of towers that might cause deadly Legionnaires outbreak, the fine is no more than $10,000.

Health Department Commissioner Mary Bassett said in a statement that “In 2015, we worked with the City Council to create the nation’s most comprehensive cooling tower registry and regulations. During the investigation, the registry helps the Health Department to quickly identify all cooling towers in the affected neighborhood, review their inspection record, obtain samples for rapid laboratory testing and conduct an immediate visual inspection of the tower”

Remember, not everyone who inhales the mist gets the disease. People who are more at risk are those who are older (above 50), who smoke, have a chronic lung disease or a weakened immune system. The city has an average of 200-500 cases each year due to Legionnaires.

 About Legionnaires:

Legionnaires disease is a severe form of pneumonia that cause lung inflammation. Legionella bacteria survive in soil and water but they rarely cause infection that way. The bacteria multiply in water systems in large buildings like hotel, hospitals etc. and then spread through hot tubs, air conditioner, swimming pools etc. You won’t get infected if you drink the contaminated water or if you are in contact with someone who has the disease. Legionnaires is not contagious.

Symptoms of Legionnaires includes bad cough, shortness of breath, muscle pain, headache, chills and high fever. Most of the people who have Legionnaires will get hospitalized. As soon as you experience the symptoms, contact your GP immediately. Around 1 in 10 people who contract the bacteria die. People who are more at risk have high fatality rate and are at more risk of complications.

Incubation period of Legionella is 2-10 days. Diagnosis is done through a series of tests like CT scan, blood tests, chests X-ray, etc. Treatment generally involves antibiotics given directly through the vein and oxygen mask / machine to help you breathe.  Complications like respiratory failure, septic shock and acute kidney failure can occur.

The only way to prevent Legionnaires is to ensure that owner of commercial premises maintain proper safety of their water systems. They hold regular inspections and regular cleaning of the systems and are aware of the law that governs Legionnaires.

Our Lawyers Can Help You:

Several residents in the Washington Heights have retained The Lange Law Firm, PLLC in the Legionnaires outbreak.

Our lawyer, Jory Lange, is one of the nation’s leading Legionnaires disease lawyers and has helped families all across the nation. If you have developed Legionnaires disease, we want you to know that a Legionnaires lawyer at the Lange Law Firm, PLLC is currently investigating the matter and offering free legal consultations.

Get in touch with us by giving a call on (833) 330-3663 or complete the form here.

By: Pooja Sharma, Contributing Writer (Non-Lawyer)