Traces of bacteria at a precinct in East Harlem created an all-out scare after doctors diagnosed an NYPD officer with Legionnaires' disease, a deadly infection caused by Legionella pneumophila.
Officials told officers at the precinct not to shower there until the source of the contamination is found and resolved. While the infected officer recovers at a hospital outside the city, officials have been testing the water supply and inspecting the water system at the facility for a source. Health officials reportedly began testing the water on Friday night.
Preliminary water tests by an independent contractor found evidence of Legionella. All hot water at the station has been shut off, to prevent further infections.
Legionnaires' is a form of pneumonia spread through contact with infected water. Infections don't spread from person to person — Legionella typically spreads through inhalation of water droplets.
Legionella can grow in inadequately-maintained water systems, most often in large buildings like hotels, with systems that give the bacteria room to thrive. It grows best in hot water.
Symptoms of Legionnaires' disease include fever, cough, shortness of breath, headaches, and muscle aches. The incubation period before symptoms appear is between 2 and ten days, but can be as long as two weeks. Legionnaires' is usually treatable with antibiotics, though it is fatal in about 1 out of 10 cases.
Around 6,000 US cases of Legionnaires' were reported in 2015, according to the CDC. The number of reported cases has been rising since 2000, though this could be due to other factors like increased reporting instead of or in addition to increased disease incidence.
Legionella bacteria can also cause a minor illness, Pontiac Fever. Pontiac fever does not cause pneumonia, and has a much shorter incubation period of a few hours to 3 days, typically clearing up within a week; symptoms are fever and muscle ache.