Sick with Legionnaires?
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Elliot Olsen has decades of experience representing people harmed by Legionnaires’ disease. If you or a family member contracted Legionnaires in this Washington Heights-Hamilton Heights outbreak, please call (612) 337-6126 for a free consultation, or complete the following:
WPIX-11 news is reporting that New York City health officials have increased the total to 14 people who have now become ill as part of this year’s second Washington Heights-Hamilton Heights outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease.
The NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) announced just Friday that eight residents had been infected during a five-day span. Those first eight victims range in age from younger than 40 to older than 80; all eight needed to be hospitalized, and only one had been discharged as of Friday.
At that time, acting DOHMH commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot released a statement that read: “The Health Department has identified a second cluster this season of Legionnaires’ disease in the lower Washington Heights area, and we are taking aggressive steps to ensure the safety of residents.”
No mention was made of any further victims requiring hospitalization, and information on the ages, genders and conditions of anyone in the new group of victims has not been released.
(Note: The DOHMH classifies the current collection of illnesses as a “cluster” because the cases are linked in time and space, but no common source for the illnesses has been located. If a common source is found, officials will recategorize this incident as an “outbreak.”)
Heights outbreak: community meeting
The DOHMH conducted a town hall meeting Monday night at the Jackie Robinson Recreation Center (85 Bradhurst Avenue). One attendee was Conrad Martin, whose grandmother is among those who have been sickened.
“She’s doing better,” Martin told a WPIX reporter. “She’s still very weak, and she has some health issues she didn’t have before, like incontinence and things like that.”
Martin’s grandmother lives in the Sugar Hill Project, a building for low-income residents at 898 St. Nicholas Avenue and West 155th Street. The Sugar Hill Project was at the center of the area’s first outbreak, in which 27 people were sickened – and one of them died – over the summer.
Heights outbreak: cooling tower
The investigation into that summer outbreak pinpointed a cooling tower at the Sugar Hill Project as the cause for the illnesses, which infected residents of both Washington Heights and Hamilton Heights. A strain of Legionella bacteria, which causes Legionnaires’ disease, was found to be common between six patients and the Sugar Hill Project cooling tower.
Because of the proximity of Sugar Hill Project to the most recent outbreak, the DOHMH has ordered the building’s owners to re-clean and re-disinfect the building’s cooling system.
In addition, the DOHMH said it has sampled 20 cooling towers – taking a closer look at 11 – in an attempt to pinpoint the source. WPIX was told that one cooling tower was not registered with the city, so it was not being inspected regularly.
Owners of buildings with cooling towers that test positive for Legionella will be required to increase their efforts to eliminate it.
Heights outbreak: warning
In his Friday statement to the public, Barbot warned that “although the risk is very low, we urge residents and people who work in the area to take precautions.”
The statement went on to say: “Legionnaires’ disease is not contagious, and (it) can be treated with common antibiotics if caught early. Anyone with flu-like symptoms – such as cough, fever or difficulty breathing – should seek medical attention immediately.”
If you live, work or travel through the area, you need to be especially vigilant. An infected person might not yet have symptoms simply because the disease’s incubation period can be up to two weeks.
Heights outbreak: more on disease
Because symptoms of Legionnaires’ disease are so similar to those of other forms of pneumonia (lung infection) or flu, many cases go unreported. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) statistics show that only about 20 percent (5,000) of the estimated 25,000 annual cases in the U.S. are reported.
Early symptoms of Legionnaires’ disease generally include:
- severe headaches
- fever, which can be 104 degrees or higher
- muscle aches
- suppressed appetite.
Symptoms, however, can then worsen to include:
- pleuritic chest pain, which is chest pain caused by inflamed lungs
- dyspnea (difficulty breathing)
- cough, which can produce blood and mucus
- gastrointestinal problems such as diarrhea, nausea and vomiting (about one-third of Legionnaires cases produce these symptoms)
- mental agitation and confusion.
Heights outbreak: Legionella
Legionnaires’ disease outbreaks and clusters have been linked to numerous hosts of Legionella, including:
- cooling towers of air conditioning systems
- large plumbing systems
- water systems (apartment complexes, hospitals, nursing homes, and hotels)
- hot-water heaters and tanks
- showers and faucets
- swimming pools, hot tubs and whirlpools
- equipment used in physical therapy
- mist machines (for example, the produce section of a grocery store)
- hand-held sprayers
- decorative fountains.
Legionella bacteria are contracted by inhaling microscopic water droplets in the form of mist or vapor. Legionella grow best in warm water and are found primarily in human-made environments.
Anyone can become ill from Legionella, although the majority of healthy people exposed to the bacteria do not. Those most susceptible to infection include:
- people 50 years old or older
- people with a chronic lung disease or COPD (bronchitis or emphysema)
- smokers, either current or former
- people with compromised immune systems
- heavy drinkers of alcoholic beverages
- recipients of organ transplants
- people on specific drug protocols (for instance, corticosteroids).
About 10 percent of people who develop Legionnaires’ disease will die from the infection.