UPDATE: With 14 confirmed cases of Legionnaires’ disease in Flushing, city announces town hall

Legionella Pneumophila Bacteria
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The city’s Health Department has confirmed 14 cases of Legionnaires’ disease in downtown Flushing and announced plans for a town hall event in the community next week.

On Monday, Oct. 30, health officials will be at Flushing Town Hall to answer any questions or address any concerns residents may have. The event will begin at 6 p.m. at the community center, located at 137-35 Northern Blvd.

On Oct. 26, the city agency confirmed one additional case of the disease within the community cluster, bringing the total count to 14. A total of 12 patients have been released from the hospital, two remain hospitalized and no patients have died as a result of the disease.

All cases were diagnosed before Oct. 19, according to officials.

Samples from all 55 cooling towers in the area of the reported outbreak have been taken and subsequently examined, the Health Department said. Preliminary results determined that 10 cooling towers contained Legionella DNA. The Department has issued orders to increase or change the biocide — a chemical used to kill bacteria — in each affected cooling tower.

To determine whether the towers contained live bacteria — which causes Legionnaires’ disease —the Department is growing the sampled bacteria in culture. This process will take approximately two weeks, officials said. The Department will order the owner of any building with a positive culture result to fully clean and disinfect the cooling tower.

According to the Health Department, the 14 patients in the “community cluster of Legionnaires’ disease cases” range in age from the 30s to the 80s. Most of the individuals have had underlying health conditions, which made them particularly susceptible to infection. The disease is not passed person to person.

The department identified the cluster on Oct. 23, according to Deputy Health Commissioner Dr. Demetre Daskalakis. The initial 12 cases examined on Oct. 24 stemmed from “residential environments.”

The city agency is being intentionally vague on where the outbreak is located in an effort to make all residents in the affected neighborhood hyper-vigilant for symptoms of the disease, which include flu-like symptoms such as fever, cough, chills and muscle aches, according to Daskalakis. The Department is urging residents in the area with respiratory symptoms to seek medical attention immediately.

“We want people in the area of Flushing and in Queens to have a high-vigilance for this; but we don’t want them to have a false sense of security that, if a block away from the zone, they shouldn’t think of this,” Daskalakis said.

Legionnaires’ disease stems from exposure to Legionella bacteria commonly found in cooling towers and plumbing systems within apartment buildings. The bacteria thrive in warm, humid environments such as cooling towers, whirlpool spas, hot tubs, humidifiers, hot water tanks and air conditioning systems.

The Health Department says there are between 200 and 400 Legionnaires’ disease cases in New York City every year, most of which are treated with antibiotics for pneumonia. Two people in Flushing contracted Legionnaires’ disease earlier this year, the agency announced in August. There have since been other reported Legionnaires’ cases in Howard Beach and Rego Park; one man died from the illness at the Parker Towers in Forest Hills.

“I urge individuals in this area [of Flushing] with respiratory symptoms to seek medical attention right away,” Bassett said. “People over the age of 50 and people with compromised immune symptoms are especially at risk.”

This is a developing story; check with QNS later for further updates.

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