By Mark Hallum
Residents of Parker Tower gathered in the community room at 104-60 Queens Blvd. this week for a briefing by the city Dept. of Health and Mental Hygiene about two cases of Legionnaires disease, which had recently broken out in the Forest Hills building.
Tenants and their relatives voiced fearful concerns about their risk of developing the disease to Associate Commissioners Sam Miller and Liaison Chae No, who assured them the pneumonia-like condition is only contracted through steam and easily avoided. So far, two residents have been struck by Legionnaires, including one victim, 87-year-old Lenore Velazquez, who died of the disease.
According to Linda Brown, who is Velazquez’s niece and also a nurse who lives in Bayside, Velazquez’s condition deteriorated in just three days.
“On Sunday, she was just starting to feel sick with chills – no fever or anything,” Brown said. “By the time I got to her on Tuesday night, her breathing was terrible and I brought her in that day to LIJ and she passed Friday night.”
Brown said her mother and father, in their 70s and 80s, also live in the building and she fears for their well-being.
Miller and Chae advised the tenants that anyone living in the tower who is elderly or may have a compromised immune system should avoid steam, as that is how Legionnaires makes its way into the lungs through water vapor. Avoiding showers and running hot water through faucets at a slower rate will help reduce the likelihood that bacteria is inhaled. Healthy individuals carry very little risk of developing the flu-like symptoms of Legionnaires.
If caught early enough by a physician, the disease is reliably treated through antibiotics.
All the same, attendees at the meeting, both young and old, leaned on one another for comfort and did not hold any questions back. Miller and No said samples had been taken from a number of apartments in the building and they may have results in a matter of weeks, but that did little to calm the fears of tenants who were 50 and older.
Water with Legionnaires is drinkable, they said, and the disease does not pass from person to person.
State Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Flushing) made an appearance to inform tenants her office was also involved in the process of making sure the building was safe.
“Obviously we’re concerned,” Satvisky said. “Vigilance is really key here. You got to make sure that if you have any of the symptoms that you should let your doctor know and let the city Dept. of Health know. I think it’s important, the cooperation between the local elected officials … to make sure we’re all on the same page and to make sure we’re all being responsive.”
At this point the Health Department does not define the situation at Parker Towers to be an outbreak, considering there have only been two cases. But it is keeping the community informed ahead of any new cases.
No said if Legionnaires is found in the water samples taken in individual units throughout the building, the city agency will oversee an approved solution to either flush the pipes with chlorine or heat the water in the pipes to extreme temperatures to kill the bacteria.
In early August, two residents at Latimer Gardens Houses in Flushing were diagnosed with Legionnaires, but both recovered after being hospitalized.
Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhall