What you need to know about Legionnaires’ disease
The number of deaths caused by the Legionnaires’ disease outbreak in New York City is now at 12, and over 100 cases have been reported in the South Bronx, according to an update from city health officials.
Legionnaires’ disease is a severe respiratory infection caused by the bacterium Legionella pneumophila. It is not spread from contact with an individual with the disease, but by breathing in mist from a water source containing the bacteria such as showers, air conditioning or cooling towers. After being exposed to the bacteria, it takes two to 10 days before symptoms of the illness appear, according to Legionella.org.
After five cooling towers in New York City tested positive for legionella bacteria, city officials believe they have identified the source of illness. The cooling towers, which work to condense steam or cool water for industries, have been disinfected.
“There are symptoms that people should be aware of,” says Dr. Stephen Sokalski, infectious disease specialist at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, Ill. “These include cough, shortness of breath, chest pain, high fever, muscle aches, headaches, gastrointestinal symptoms, and confusion or other mental changes.”
The best way to prevent a Legionnaires’ disease outbreak is taking proper care of the water systems in which the bacteria may grow. As a result, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is proposing new laws requiring regular cleaning of cooling towers to kill the bacteria which causes Legionnaires.
“New York is the first major city in the nation to propose new registration, inspection, and enforcement standards for the cooling towers which harbor Legionnaires’ bacteria,” he said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 8,000 to 18,000 people are hospitalized with Legionnaires’ disease each year in the U.S.
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