Bronx Legionnaires’ outbreak turns deadly as disease claims first victim, hospitalizes 8

The legionnaires outbreak in the Highbridge neighborhood of The Bronx has taken a deadly toll as the first victim has died from the disease while the number of infected has nearly doubled and risen to 19 with 8 hospitalized for this potentially fatal disease.

The public was first alerted to the outbreak last Friday, May 20th by the New York City Department of Health which noted that the first case appeared as early as May 9th centered within the 10452 and 10456 zip codes.

A Highbridge resident reads an informational pamphlet on Legionnaires’ handed out at a local food pantry on the Grand Concourse

During its investigation of the outbreak, the Department of Health identified four cooling towers in the area which tested positive for the legionella bacteria and ordered the immediate disinfection of the cooling towers and will retest to ensure compliance.

“We are saddened to hear about a death in a person who contracted Legionnaires’,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Ashwin Vasan. “Health Department staff are working to ensure that buildings in the cluster area are treated and conditions remediated quickly. While most people exposed to the bacteria do not get sick, Legionnaires’ disease can cause severe illness or be fatal for those at higher risk, including people pre-existing chronic health issues. That’s why it’s crucial that you seek health care as soon as you experience flu-like symptoms.”

The Highbridge neighborhood finds itself the center of the latest legionnaires’ outbreak in New York City

According to the Department of Health:

Legionnaires’ disease is a type of pneumonia that is caused by the bacteria Legionella, which grows in warm water. Symptoms resemble other types of pneumonia and can include fever, chills, muscle aches, and cough. Legionnaires’ disease can be caused by plumbing systems where conditions are favorable for Legionella growth, such as cooling towers, whirlpool spas, hot tubs, humidifiers, hot water tanks, and evaporative condensers of large air-conditioning systems.

Individuals only get sick by breathing in water vapor containing Legionella bacteria, and the disease is not transmitted from person to person. Individuals at higher risk include those ages 50 and above, cigarette smokers, and people with chronic lung disease or compromised immune systems. People living or working in the area who are experiencing these symptoms should seek medical attention with a primary care provider or seek urgent care.

Bronx residents are particularly susceptible to the disease given the fact that many residents have asthma which can complicate issues with the disease.

In 2015, the South Bronx was the location of New York City’s largest outbreak of legionnaires’ which claimed the lives of 16 Bronxites and sickened 138 individuals.

During that outbreak, residents were told that the culprit were cooling towers and the New York City Department of Health insisted that it was not in the drinking water supply yet a month later, legionnaires’ bacteria was detected in the drinking water supply at Melrose Houses where several individuals had become ill with the disease.

It’s important to note that during this current outbreak, only water cooling towers have been identified as the source of the bacteria and not the drinking supply as of now.

Once again, if you’re experiencing flu-like symptoms including difficulty breathing, please contact a health care provider immediately and get tested. Legionnaires’ is treatable with antibiotics if caught early.

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Ed García Conde

Ed García Conde is a life-long Bronxite who spends his time documenting the people, places, and things that make the borough a special place in the hopes of dispelling the negative stereotypes associated with The Bronx. His writings are often cited by mainstream media and is often consulted for his expertise on the borough's rich history.