Legionnaires’ cluster originated from Bronx Psychiatric cooling tower

New York City’s Public Health Laboratory and the state’s Wadsworth Center Laboratory have identified a cooling tower at Bronx Psychiatric Center as the likely source of this September’s Legionnaires’ cluster affecting the 10461 zip code.
Photo by Walter Pofeldt

The cause of a recent Legionnaires’ disease cluster that affected the 10461 zip code has been identified.

On Friday, November 20, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene announced it had identified the likely source of the cluster that infected several people this past September.

According to DOHMH, “After extensive sampling of cooling towers and testing of Legionella bacteria, the city’s Public Health Laboratory collaborating with the state’s Wadsworth Center laboratory identified a cooling tower at the Bronx Psychiatric Center as the likely source of the cluster as the Legionella strain discovered in this particular cooling tower matched samples taken from four patients infected with Legionnaires’.”

The department added Bronx Psychiatric Center has been cooperative with all agencies involved in this investigation, has cleaned and disinfected its tower which is currently offline for the winter and is working with DOHMH on a long-term maintenance plan consistent with industry standards.

The psychiatric center’s cooling tower was tested on August 5, 2015 in compliance with city and state regulations following this summer’s Legionnaires’ outbreak in the south Bronx and a test conducted on the cooling tower on August 17, 2015 yielded negative results for Legionella.

Bronx Psychiatric Center have retained maintenance consultants to prevent Legionella growth in their cooling tower and continue working diligently to comply with city and state requirements.

DOHMH added there have not been any further cluster-related cases of Legionnaires’ disease with illness onset after September 28.

“Using the expertise and resources of the city and state’s laboratories we were able to identify the DNA fingerprint of the outbreak strain and match it to samples linked to the outbreak,” said NYC Commissioner of Health Dr. Mary Bassett. “The Psychiatric Center worked diligently to clean and disinfect the cooling tower as soon as it tested positive for the disease causing Legionella and all cooling towers across the affected area were evaluated and disinfected as needed.”

Jeremy Warneke, Community Board 11 district manager, spoke with DOHMH over the phone last Friday about this discovery which came ten days after DOHMH spoke at CB 11’s Health Committee meeting regarding the Legionnaires’ cluster.

“The Health Department was able to establish a radius of these cases and kept the public notified,” he said. “Hopefully, another Legionnaires’ cluster will never happen again, but at least we are now more aware of this disease.”

“People will now have a sense of closure knowing this was where it originated from, but there is always that possibility of this happening again,” said Al D’Angelo, Morris Park Community Association vice president. “Hopefully, we have all learned our lesson and there will be more done to prevent a reoccurrence.”

As previously reported by the Bronx Times, the Legionnaires’ cluster discovered in the 10461 zip code resulted in 13 people infected and one reported death.

All 13 cases were diagnosed with underlying health conditions including three individuals between ages 25 to 44 with multiple medical problems, eight individuals ages 45 to 64 and two individuals more than age 65, according to DOHMH.

Five of these individuals are residents of the 10461 zip code while the eight either worked or visited the infected area.

No patients have been diagnosed with Legionnaires’ since September 21 and the 15 infected cooling towers were immediately disinfected.

Legionnaires’ is only contracted by breathing Legionella contaminated mist from cooling towers, whirlpool spas, showers and faucets harboring Legionella and is treatable with antibiotics.

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