News: Legionnaires' Risk Growing in NYC as Weather Warms

Legionnaires' Risk Growing in NYC as Weather Warms

The number of Legionnaires' cases in New York over the last couple weeks has led to concern and recommendations of caution for those at risk.

The bacteria grows in water, especially in larger water systems like those at hotels. Conditions are improving for its growth as temperatures rise for summer. A warm environment is more hospitable for Legionella and risky for people.

Additionally, more people are vacationing this time of year, and are at greater risk of exposure from sources like air conditioners, swimming water, hotel water supplies, or cruise ship onboard water supplies. Legionnaires' is fatal in about 1 out of 10 cases and had over 6,000 reported US cases in 2015. It is generally not transmitted from person to person; infection directly from contaminated water or water vapor is usually the source of infection. Treatment mainly consists of antibiotics.

200 to 400 cases are reported in NYC each year. Within the past few weeks, six people became ill in an Upper East Side outbreak (with one fatal case), and a police officer from an East Harlem precinct was hospitalized for Legionnaires'.

Jerry Balentine, the vice president for Medical Affairs and Global Health at the New York Institute of Technology College for Osteopathic Medicine, recommends that vacationers watch for the signs of Legionnaires' and seek medical attention if they think they may have caught it. He said, "We should not live in fear or cancel our activities, but we should understand the symptoms that may be associated with the disease and seek treatment right away, if necessary."

The NYC Department of Health also recommends seeking treatment, and says it is "especially important if you have a medical condition that affects your breathing or if you are a smoker." Those who are immunocompromised, elderly, or have other health issues can be especially at risk from Legionnaires' disease; so if they or those around them notice symptoms like fever, muscle aches, headaches, cough, or shortness of breath, they should seek medical care.

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Cover image by Miranda Stewart

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