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An upper Manhattan cluster of Legionnaires’ diseases has claimed its first life, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) said.

In addition, the DOHMH reported that the number of people infected has more than doubled: 18 individuals have been diagnosed with the pneumonia-like illness. The DOHMH first alerted the public about the outbreak on July 11, reporting that eight people had been confirmed with the disease.

The victim – who has not been identified – was over the age of 50 but wasn’t diagnosed early, compromising their health situation. Seven people remain hospitalized.

The illness has infected individuals from southern Washington Heights and northern Hamilton Heights.

Upper Manhattan cluster: beware

If you live, work or even travel through the affected area and are feeling flu-like symptoms (see below), it’s recommended you see your health-care provider immediately, out of an abundance of caution.

“It’s really important if you’re feeling sick to get attention,” said Dr. Demetre Daskalakis, deputy commissioner for disease control for the DOHMH.

Officials reassured the public that Legionnaires’ disease is not passed person-to-person, and it’s easily cured with antibiotics if diagnosed early.

“You cannot catch Legionnaires’ from someone sneezing, coughing, hugging you or shaking your hand,” said Mark Levine, New York City Council member and chairperson of the Council’s Committee on Health. “Legionnaires’ is not contagious.”

Upper Manhattan cluster: call for action

Health officials took water samples from 20 cooling-tower systems from buildings between 145th and 165th Streets. Several building owners were ordered to increase their use of biocides to kill Legionella bacteria, which is the bacteria that causes Legionnaires’ disease.

“We’re watching carefully,” Dr. Daskalakis told The New York Times, “but we’re optimistic that the source from this has been addressed.”

City Council member Ydanis Rodriguez said he believes the city should levy steep fines for building owners of cooling towers that fail inspections.

“This is very serious, a risk that we face in our city,” Rodriguez said outside City Hall. “We should be able to know if we run any risk of contracting the disease when we step into a building. We must also increase fines when a cooling tower fails inspection.”

Upper Manhattan cluster case count rises; first death recorded

An upper Manhattan cluster of Legionnaires’ diseases has claimed its first life, and the number of people infected has more than doubled to 18.

Upper Manhattan cluster: Legionnaires’ info

Legionnaires’ disease is also known as legionellosis and Legionella pneumonia. It is similar to other forms of pneumonia, which is an infection of the air sacs in one or both lungs that can produce fluid in the lungs.

Symptoms of Legionnaires’ disease can resemble common flu-like symptoms, such as:

  • high fever
  • coughing
  • chills
  • muscle pains
  • severe headaches
  • exhaustion
  • appetite loss
  • confusion
  • breathing difficulties
  • gastrointestinal symptoms, such as but not limited to nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting.

About 25,000 cases of pneumonia due to Legionella bacteria (Legionella pneumophila) occur annually in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Because of the disease’s nonspecific signs and symptoms, however, only 5,000 cases are reported.

Legionella bacteria are most commonly contracted by inhaling microscopic water droplets in the form of vapor or mist. The bacteria grow best in warm water, and for the most part they are found in human-made environments.

Legionella sources
Clusters and outbreaks of Legionnaires’ disease have been linked to numerous sources, such as:

  • cooling towers of air conditioning systems
  • large water systems, like those used in hospitals, nursing homes, and hotels
  • plumbing systems in large buildings
  • hot-water tanks and heaters
  • faucets and showers
  • swimming pools
  • hot tubs and whirlpools, like those on cruise ships and in hotel pool areas
  • physical-therapy equipment
  • mist machines, like those used in grocery store produce sections
  • hand-held sprayers
  • decorative fountains.