Two more people have died in connection with an unprecedented Legionnaire's disease outbreak in New York City that has now sickened 100 people, killing 10 of them, in the last three weeks, city officials said Thursday, and Gov. Cuomo said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is sending a team to the Bronx.
Mayor de Blasio announced the uptick in cases and deaths during a Q&A at an unrelated news briefing, adding another two deaths and three cases to the total announced just a day earlier.
As of Thursday, 100 cases of the disease, a severe, often lethal, form of pneumonia spread through the air, had been reported in the south Bronx since July 10, de Blasio said. That marks 54 new cases since last Wednesday, when health officials first discussed the outbreak.
The cases have been reported primarily in High Bridge, Morrisania, Hunts Point and Mott Haven. Health officials have said those who died were middle-aged and older adults with underlying medical issues.
Legionnaires' disease is caused by exposure to the bacteria Legionella; in most cases, people are exposed to the bacteria by inhaling contaminated aerosols from cooling towers, hot tubs, showers and faucets or drinking water.
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The Health Department tested cooling towers at 17 buildings in the area near the cluster of cases -- five of those tested positive for Legionella, including one at Lincoln Hospital; one at Concourse Plaza; one at a shopping plaza; one at a Verizon office building and one at the Opera House Hotel. All have been decontaminated, and the mayor said earlier this week authorities believed those five sites were the only ones contributing to the outbreak.
All of those sites must submit long-term plans as to how they will maintain cooling towers to protect against any future growth of Legionella. Those plans are due Friday.
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No additional cooling towers are believed to be contaminated, the mayor said Tuesday. Bassett said the contaminated cooling towers had no effect on the water in the Bronx, and that tap water remains entirely safe to drink.
Health Commissioner Mary Bassett, who earlier this week said the south Bronx outbreak is the largest in New York City history that authorities "are aware of," issued a mandate Thursday requiring all owners of cooling towers to disinfect their towers within 14 days. The order applies to all people who manage or control water recirculating cooling towers in New York City, not just in the Bronx. According to the order, these individuals must clean their towers if they have not been disinfected in the last 30 days; they must also hire environmental consultants. Failure to comply is a misdemeanor.
Cuomo said Thursday the state has been providing all of the testing for the city thus far and would extend its offer of free testing to all private building owners in the Bronx and across the state.
The governor also said he asked the CDC to come to the Bronx and conduct a thorough briefing. He said the federal agency was preparing a team to come to the city.
"We are researching best practices to inform statewide regulations on the best way to prevent Legionella bacteria from forming in these systems and/or from being distributed through the air," Cuomo said in a statement. "The CDC has done work on this topic and has research that we believe may be instructive or at least informative. We will consult the CDC and all relevant partners before issuing regulations but we do want to use this most unfortunate situation as a point of reform."
"This is not a new phenomenon," the governor added. "However, it is also true that the outbreak in the Bronx is the largest in history. We want to treat the current victims, stop it from spreading now, and take precautions to make sure it doesn’t happen again. All those efforts are underway with top professionals working in coordination. The public should feel confident that we have the matter under control."
Legionnaires' disease usually sets in two to 10 days after exposure to the bacteria and has symptoms similar to pneumonia, including shortness of breath, high fever, chills and chest pains. People with Legionnaires' also experience appetite loss, confusion, fatigue and muscle aches.
It cannot be spread person-to-person and those at highest risk for contracting the illness include the elderly, cigarette smokers, people with chronic lung or immune system disease and those receiving immunosuppressive drugs. Most cases can be treated successfully with antibiotics.
City officials plan to host a town hall Tuesday, Aug. 11 for area residents with council member Vanessa Gibson to answer questions and concerns about the outbreak.
The Health Department urges anyone with symptoms to seek immediate medical attention.
An outbreak last hit the Bronx in December. Between then and January, 12 people in Co-op City contracted the potentially deadly disease. Officials said a contaminated cooling tower was likely linked to at least 75 percent of those cases. No one died in that outbreak.
According to Cuomo, the state sees about 539 cases per year on average.