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New York City health officials said they found the source of the Legionnaires’ disease outbreak that sickened 27 people – killing one – in upper Manhattan.
The NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) said a cooling tower at the Sugar Hill Project in Harlem is the culprit in the outbreak that affected residents of the Washington Heights and Hamilton Heights neighborhoods. Twenty-five of 27 victims were hospitalized in the outbreak; two of them are still in the hospital.
“I am relieved that the ‘cluster’ of Legionnaires’ disease in lower Washington Heights is over,” Dr. Mary T. Bassett, the DOHMH commissioner, said in a news release. “After an extensive investigation, the health department has identified the cooling tower at the Sugar Hill Project as the most likely source of the ‘cluster.’ ”
Analysis of human and cooling tower specimens matched strains of Legionella – the bacteria that produces Legionnaires’ disease – from the Sugar Hill cooling tower and six patients. Legionnaires’ disease is a severe type of pneumonia (lung infection).
(Note: Now that a source has been identified, the “cluster” can be reclassified as an “outbreak.”)
Sugar Hill Project: investigation over
The Sugar Hill Project cooling tower was disinfected in mid-July. No new cases of Legionnaires’ disease have been reported in the past three weeks, prompting the DOHMH to close its investigation.
Even though residents are not at an increased risk of contracting Legionnaires’ disease, the DOHMH encourages any New Yorkers with flu-like symptoms to see their health-care provider.
Sugar Hill Project: new building
Sugar Hill Project opened in 2015. It is a 13-story, 191,500-square-foot, mixed-use development located in Harlem’s historic Sugar Hill district.
The development has 124 affordable housing units for low-income families, including 25 residences for those who were homeless.
The building also features the 17,600-square-foot Children’s Museum of Art & Storytelling on the ground floor, as well as an 11,600-square-foot, early-childhood education center on the second floor.
Sugar Hill Project is located at 898 St. Nicholas Avenue (St. Nicholas and West 155th Street).
Sugar Hill Project: disease info
An estimated 25,000 cases of pneumonia due to Legionella bacteria (Legionella pneumophila) occur yearly in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). However, only 5,000 cases are reported because of the disease’s nonspecific signs and symptoms.
Further, 10 percent of those infected with Legionnaires’ will die from the disease.
Legionella are contracted by inhaling microscopic water droplets (mist or vapor). The bacteria grow best in warm water, and they are found primarily in human-made environments.
Legionnaires’ disease is similar to other types of pneumonia, and its symptoms can resemble those of flu, including:
- shortness of breath (dyspnea)
- high fever
- muscle pains
- severe headaches
- gastrointestinal symptoms (diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, etc.).
Legionella hot spots
Legionnaires’ disease outbreaks and clusters have been linked to numerous sources, including:
- cooling towers of air conditioning systems
- plumbing systems of large buildings
- water systems (hospitals, nursing homes, hotels, etc.)
- hot-water heaters and tanks
- bathroom showers and faucets
- swimming pools, whirlpools, and hot tubs
- physical-therapy equipment
- mist machines (grocery store produce sections, outdoor festivals, etc.)
- hand-held sprayers
- decorative fountains.
Sugar Hill Project: Bassett on move
Bassett, who has overseen the health department since January 2014, announced that she is leaving the DOHMH at the end of the month. She is heading for Harvard University, where she will be director of the François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights and the François-Xavier Bagnoud professor of the practice of health and human rights at the T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
Dr. Oxiris Barbot, the DOHMH’s first deputy commissioner, will serve as acting commissioner until a permanent replacement is found.