Health Department Investigating Community Cluster of Legionnaires' Disease in Section of Lenox Hill in Manhattan

Seven cases of Legionnaires’ disease have been reported in the last 11 days

Legionnaires’ disease cannot be spread from person to person; those at high risk include people aged 50 or older, especially cigarette smokers, people with chronic lung disease or with weakened immune systems

New Yorkers with respiratory symptoms, such as fever, cough, chills and muscle aches, are urged to promptly seek medical attention

June 16, 2017 — The Health Department is currently investigating a community cluster of Legionnaires’ disease in a section of Lenox Hill in Manhattan. A total of seven individuals have been confirmed with Legionnaires’ disease in the last 11 days. Four persons are hospitalized and recovering, two have been discharged from the hospital and one person with significant underlying health conditions in their 90s has died. The Health Department is actively investigating these cases and has sampled and is testing water from all cooling tower systems within a half kilometer radius of this section of Lenox Hill. New Yorkers with respiratory symptoms, such as fever, cough, chills and muscle aches, are urged to promptly seek medical attention. The Health Department has alerted health care providers in the area. Legionnaires’ disease is treatable with standard antibiotics used to treat pneumonia. Every year, there are between 200 and 400 cases of Legionnaires’ disease in the city.

“The Health Department has identified an increase and cluster of Legionnaires’ disease cases in the Lenox Hill area,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett. “We have begun an investigation to determine the source of the cluster, focusing on cooling towers in the neighborhood. I urge individuals in this area with respiratory symptoms to seek medical attention right away.”

"Residents should be looking out for signs of Legionnaires: anybody with fever, cough, chills and muscle aches, should quickly see medical attention," said Council Member Ben Kallos. "We are working with the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to identify the source immediately. My thoughts and prayers are with the family of the individual who passed away."

Legionnaires’ disease is caused by the bacteria Legionella. 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. 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 cannot be spread from person to person. Groups at highest risk for Legionnaire’s 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 Legionnaire’s disease.

Local Law 77
In response to the Legionnaires’ disease outbreaks of 2015, the Mayor and City Council passed Local Law 77 to reduce and contain Legionella growth in cooling towers, becoming the first U.S. municipality to adopt a set of robust requirements to ensure cooling tower maintenance. Changes to the Health Code went into effect in May 2016. In June of last year, the Health Department announced a plan to reduce the risk of Legionnaires’ disease outbreaks in the city, which, in addition to implementing the most aggressive cooling tower regulation in the nation, included the hiring of more inspectors and training of City personnel to inspect towers and enhanced capacity to conduct lab testing. Since the implementation of the new law, the Department has identified and monitored over 4,000 cooling tower systems (over 6,100 cooling towers) in New York City.

To promote compliance, the Health Department has been educating building owners and managers in best practices for managing their cooling towers. The agency has distributed information about the Management Program and Plan template, how to build a cooling tower system team and general Frequently Asked Questions.

For more information about Legionnaires’ disease, please visit the Health Department website.

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MEDIA CONTACT:
Christopher Miller/Julien Martinez: (347) 396-4177, pressoffice@health.nyc.gov