NYC Health Department investigating possible Legionnaires’ disease outbreak in Highbridge section

legionnaires disease
City health officials are investigating the possibility of an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in the Highbridge neighborhood of the Bronx.
Photo courtesy NYC Health Department

At least four cases of Legionnaires’ disease have been confirmed in the Highbridge section of the Bronx with the possibility of additional cases pending test results, according to city health officials.

The city Department of Health and Mental Hygiene launched an investigation Saturday into the possible cluster of the airborne disease within the Bronx’s 10452 and 10456 ZIP codes — the first case was confirmed on May 9.

Health officials are awaiting pending test results to confirm additional spread of Legionnaires’, a form of pneumonia caused by bacteria that forms in warm water.

As of Saturday, there have been no reported deaths associated with the outbreak, according to health officials.

In the meantime, the health department is “sampling and testing water from all cooling tower systems” in the cluster area, and do not believe the issue is a result of plumbing systems in buildings within the associated ZIP codes. Health officials said it is safe for residents to drink water, bathe and use their air conditioners.

Cases of Legionnaires’ can often be traced back to “cooling towers, whirlpool spas, hot tubs, humidifiers, hot water tanks and evaporative condensers of large air-conditioning systems.” People only get sick by breathing in water vapor containing the Legionella bacteria — the disease is not contagious and treatable with medication when detected early, health officials said.

People 50 years of age and older, cigarettes smokers and those with compromised immune systems or respiratory issues are at a higher risk for contracting the disease.

Symptoms of the illness resemble the flu or other types of pneumonia, including fever, chills, muscle aches and a cough. There is no vaccine or medicine to prevent Legionnaires’ disease.

“Any New Yorkers with flu-like symptoms should contact a health care provider as soon as possible,” said city Health Commissioner Dr. Ashwin Vasan. “Legionnaires’ disease can be effectively treated if diagnosed early, but New Yorkers at higher risk, like adults aged 50 and older, those who smoke or have chronic lung conditions should be especially mindful of their symptoms and seek care as soon as symptoms begin.”

There have been numerous outbreaks of Legionnaires’ disease in the Bronx over the years, including three separate incidents in 2015 that infected 153 people and killed 17. The most recent outbreak was at Co-op City in 2018 that killed one person.

People experiencing symptoms who live or work in Highbridge or surrounding areas should seek medical attention.

Reach Christian Falcone at cfalcone@schnepsmedia.com or (718) 260-2541. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes

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