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The case count in the upper Manhattan Legionnaires’ cluster has increased to 22, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) confirmed.

The increased case count comes a mere two days after the DOHMH announced that the disease had claimed the life of one person. The victim – who has not yet been identified – was over the age of 50 but wasn’t diagnosed early, compromising their health situation.

“This case was not caught early,” said Mark Levine, New York City Council member and chairperson of the Council’s Committee on Health.

The DOHMH first confirmed the cluster on July 11, at which point it was announced that eight people were diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease. The illness has infected residents of southern Washington Heights and northern Hamilton Heights.

Dr. Mary T. Bassett, commissioner for the DOHMH, proved herself prescient at a community meeting after the public first learned about the cluster. “We may continue to see additional cases,” Dr. Bassett said then.

Upper Manhattan Legionnaires’ cluster: area alert

The DOHMH has alerted health-care providers in the area to be on the lookout for patients exhibiting Legionnaires’ disease symptoms (see below).

If you live, work or even travel through the affected area and are feeling as if you have flu, the DOHMH is recommending that you seek care from your health-care provider immediately.

“Don’t try to distinguish a flu or cold from Legionnaires’ disease if you’re specifically living in that lower Washington Heights area,” said Dr. Demetre Daskalakis, deputy commissioner for disease control for the DOHMH. “If you’re in that part of the city and have flu-like symptoms, that’s not one to wait on.”

Upper Manhattan Legionnaires' cluster count hits 22

The upper Manhattan Legionnaires’ cluster has hit 22, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene confirmed.

Upper Manhattan Legionnaires’ cluster: symptoms

Legionnaires’ disease, which is also called legionellosis and Legionella pneumonia, is similar to other types 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 those of flu, such as:

  • coughing
  • high fever
  • chills
  • muscle pains
  • severe headaches
  • exhaustion
  • appetite loss
  • breathing difficulties
  • confusion
  • gastrointestinal symptoms (diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, etc.).

When the cluster first made headlines, officials reassured residents that Legionnaires’ disease cannot be passed person-to-person. In addition, the disease can be cured with antibiotics, but only if it is diagnosed early.

Upper Manhattan Legionnaires’ cluster: high risk

“While most people exposed to Legionella (the bacteria that causes Legionnaires’ disease) don’t get sick, individuals ages 50 and above – especially those who smoke and have chronic lung conditions – are at a higher risk,” Dr. Bassett said. “This disease is very treatable with antibiotics. I encourage anyone with symptoms of Legionnaires’ disease to seek care early.”

Other categories of people most susceptible to infection include:

  • people with weakened immune systems
  • heavy drinkers of alcohol
  • organ-transplant recipients
  • individuals on specific drug protocols (for instance, corticosteroids).

Upper Manhattan Legionnaires’ cluster: sources

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

  • cooling towers of air conditioning systems in large buildings
  • plumbing systems
  • water systems (hospitals, nursing homes, hotels, etc.)
  • showers and faucets
  • hot-water tanks and heaters
  • hot tubs and whirlpools
  • swimming pools
  • physical-therapy equipment
  • hand-held sprayers and mist machines, like those used in the produce sections of grocery stores
  • decorative fountains.

Upper Manhattan Legionnaires’ cluster: statistics

Legionnaires’ disease is a severe type of pneumonia, or lung infection. Approximately 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.

According to the CDC, about 10 percent – one in 10 – patients infected with Legionnaires’ disease will die from the illness.

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