Over the past month ten people have died and one-hundred have fallen ill due to an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in the South Bronx section of New York State. Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that the Legionella bacterium has been detected in two apartment houses, the Bronx County Hall of Justice, The Bronx General Post Office and the Samuel Gompers High School at the present time. Five other Bronx locations have also been tested positive and the mayor insists that the city is winning the battle against the outbreak. According to a news story shared by Newsweek on August 9, the fatal form of bacterial pneumonia is tapering off, and officials are attempting to contain the outbreak within the New York City’s South Bronx neighborhood.
State and federal agencies are involved in this matter and taking it very seriously. They believe this is a critical health care emergency. Dr. Jasen Kunz of the National Center for Environmental Health and Dr. Claressa Lucas of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases will be leading a team of one hundred and fifty state officials to help with testing and assisting the Centers for Disease Control to address this outbreak. Approximately 10,000 to 18,000 people are affected with this bacterium in the United States annually.
Legionnaires’ disease is not a communicable disease, rather a contagion that exposes itself with flu-like symptoms and is a form of atypical pneumonia which can also resemble influenza. It is not an airborne bacterium nor can it be transmitted from person to person. The elderly and any individual that has pre-existing respiratory conditions, chronic lung disease, smoke have asthma, or are fifty years of age or older are at a higher risk of death if diagnosed with this disease. The bacteria or bacterium, Legionella enters and is transmitted through the lungs from either inhalation of aerosolized contaminated soil and/or water or by aspirating contaminated water. Legionnaires’ disease can lead to life-threatening complications such as; respiratory failure, septic shock, acute kidney failure and even death.
Places that can harbor this bacteria and allow it to thrive are; hot-water tanks, cooling towers, evaporative condensers, large air-conditioning systems located in large office buildings and hotels, nebulizers, humidifiers, whirlpool spas, showers, windshield washers, ice-making machines, hot tubs, physical therapy equipment, swimming pools, evaporative coolers, industrial cooling systems, fountains, misting systems at grocery stores as well as in creeks, freshwater ponds, cruise ships, hospitals or nursing homes with potable water systems and cooling systems, potting mixes, compost heaps, humidifiers and nebulizers that use tap water in lieu of sterile water sources. The water temperatures need to be controlled between thirty-five degrees Celsius or ninety-five degrees Fahrenheit. When the temperatures range between twenty-five and forty-two degrees Celsius, which is seventy-seven degrees Fahrenheit in these systems the likelihood of the bacteria thriving increases dramatically.
The incubation period from the time of exposure to where the bacteria and symptoms appear is between two and ten days. Symptoms associated with Legionnaires’ disease are; fever, cough, chills, coughing up sputum or blood, muscle aches, a feeling of being tired, loss of appetite, headaches, chest pain, diarrhea, vomiting, loss of coordination, confusion, shortness of breath, low heart rate, and impaired cognition. Individuals usually are tested by having a chest x-ray, CT scan and a blood work-up which can show signs of low sodium in the blood, abnormal electrolyte levels, abnormal liver and kidney functions or the presence of pneumonia. People are treated with antibiotics; told to refrain from smoking, being around second-hand smoke and drinking alcohol. It is important to drink plenty of fluids and get as much rest as you can.