The Latest On The Legionnaires' Disease Outbreak In New York City

A recent outbreak of Legionnaires' disease in New York City has turned deadly, killing one person; 18 people remain sick, including eight who are hospitalized. According to the New York Times, this is the first known death in a cluster of cases in New York City since 2018. The city saw its worst outbreak in 2015 when 138 people got sick and 16 people died. The current outbreak is believed to be connected to four water cooling towers in the Bronx.

Outbreaks of Legionnaires' disease are a fairly frequent occurrence in New York City, where aging water cooling towers sit atop a number of buildings and can be a magnet for Legionella pneumophila bacteria. Legionnaires' disease, which affects the respiratory system and causes flu-like symptoms such as fever, coughing, and breathing difficulties, comes about as a result of inhaling water vapor infected with the bacteria. The disease is not transmissible from person to person and can be treated with antibiotics if detected early. It tends to occur during warmer months when the bacteria grow more easily in environments such as cooling towers, hot tubs, humidifiers, and whirlpool spas. The bacteria can also grow in the evaporative condensers of large air-conditioning systems, per the New York Times.

How to protect yourself from Legionnaires' disease

Prevention of Legionnaires' disease is largely up to building owners and managers, who need to properly disinfect their water systems, and local health inspectors, who need to make sure that building owners are putting effective systems and practices into place to prevent the growth and spread of Legionella bacteria, Hannah Newman, director of epidemiology at Lenox Hill Hospital, told Healthline

As far as what individuals can do to protect themselves against the illness, Dr. Newman suggests that to be safe, people in affected areas take baths instead of showers, and use cold water when possible. She adds that filling tubs and sinks slowly will also lower the risk of creating a mist that can spread the disease. And if you must use a hot tub or whirlpool spa, she suggests getting a test kit that can detect Legionella. Healthline reports that drinking water systems are separate from cooling tower systems, and so those living or working in an infected area may safely drink and cook with their tap water.

The experts at the New York City Department of Health note that people over 50 and individuals who smoke or have lung disease or compromised immune systems are at a higher risk for infection. However, they advise anyone working or living in an area with a Legionnaires' disease outbreak and who is experiencing flu-like symptoms to seek immediate medical attention.