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The case count in the Upper Manhattan Legionnaires outbreak has increased to 29 victims, but few news outlets have reported on the update.

As of this morning, the only place one can find the current case count is on the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) website. And there, two passing references are made, neither of which points out that it is an updated total.

(Note: The DOHMH is classifying this event as a “cluster” because although the cases are linked in time and space, no common source has been identified. If there is a common source, the event will be recategorized as an “outbreak.” This blog writer is classifying this as an outbreak because the probability is high that there is a specific source.)

Upper Manhattan Legionnaires outbreak: cooling towers

The DOHMH website continues to state that 20 cooling towers have been inspected, but that information was first posted on Oct. 5, and test results generally take about a week to return.

Owners of 11 cooling towers were ordered to remediate them “based on preliminary results and out of an abundance of caution,” Dr. Oxiris Barbot, acting DOHMH commissioner, said last week.

In addition, WPIX-11 News reported that one cooling tower was not being inspected regularly because it was not registered with the city of New York.

Upper Manhattan Legionnaires outbreak: No. 2 for 2018

The current Legionnaires’ disease outbreak is not the first for the area this year. An outbreak over the summer produced 27 illnesses – and one death – and so the total number of people infected the past six months is fast approaching 60.

The investigation into the summer outbreak pinpointed a cooling tower at the Sugar Hill Project (898 St. Nicholas Avenue) as the cause for the illnesses that affected primarily residents of Washington Heights and Hamilton Heights. A strain of Legionella – the bacteria that causes Legionnaires’ disease – was common between six victims and a cooling tower at Sugar Hill Project.

Because of Sugar Hill Project’s proximity to the current outbreak, the DOHMH ordered its owners to re-clean and re-disinfect the building’s cooling system. That process reportedly was completed Oct. 5.

Upper Manhattan Legionnaires outbreak keeps growing; case count at 29

Upper Manhattan Legionnaires outbreak: another record year

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), last year set a record for Legionnaires’ disease in New York: 1,009 residents of the state contracted the potentially deadly lung infection.

The Alliance to Prevent Legionnaires’ Disease has projected that the state record will be broken again this year. As of the end of September, 875 cases had been reported in 2018, and the Alliance projects the total to reach 1,180 before the end of the year.

For its part, the city of New York contributes an average of up to 500 Legionnaires’ disease cases to the state’s annual total. Last year, NYC reported 441 cases, a 64 percent increase from the 268 reported in 2016.

Upper Manhattan Legionnaires outbreak: statement

The Alliance published an online statement on the city’s unending problem that reads:

“It’s unfortunate, but this outbreak was inevitable. And while the outbreak in Washington Heights is the latest episode in a sad saga, the real story is that New York repeatedly leads the nation in Legionnaires’ disease cases with the vast majority of individual cases being substantially ignored.

“The City will continue to have an ongoing problem with Legionella bacteria unless they take their heads out of the sand and realize prevention requires a source to point-of-use solution.

“The failure of our public officials to test the public water system for Legionella bacteria is a problem as our own sampling has shown Legionella bacteria can be readily found in areas like public fountains. The narrow scope of the City’s investigations to find the source of outbreaks and sporadic cases is also an issue. 

“New Yorkers should not accept that hundreds of Legionnaires’ disease infections every year is considered normal. It’s time to implement a real solution to this perennial problem.”