By Gina Martinez
The New York City Department of Health has confirmed 12 cases of Legionnaires’ disease in the downtown Flushing area in the past two weeks.
According to the DOH, most of the patients had serious underlying health conditions. Five of the patients are currently hospitalized and recovering, and seven have already been discharged from the hospital, the agency said.
The Health Department said the patients range in age from early 30s to late 80’s. The department is currently investigating two more cases to determine whether they are part of this cluster. DOH is not revealing what buildings have been tested, but confirmed the cluster is focused on the Downtown Flushing area.
Legionnaires’ disease is caused by the bacteria Legionella. Symptoms typically include fever, cough, chills, muscle aches, headache, fatigue, loss of appetite, confusion and diarrhea and appear two to 10 days after significant exposure to Legionella bacteria, according to the DOH.
Legionnaires’ disease cannot be spread from person to person and most cases can be traced to 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, the DOH said.
The Health Department is actively investigating these cases and has taken water samples from 52 cooling tower systems within the investigation zone in Flushing to test for Legionella. Testing involves a two-step process that identifies genetic evidence of the bacteria and then confirms if the bacteria is alive and able to cause disease.
City Councilman Peter Koo (D-Flushing) held a press conference Tuesday addressing the cluster and was joined by Dr. Demetre Daskalakis, deputy health commissioner for DOH’s Division of Disease Control. According to Daskalakis, if testing results come back positive, the owners of those buildings will be ordered to immediately increase the level of biocides that kill the Legionella bacteria or to change to a new biocide and report to the Department within 24 hours.
“We will soon have results on those samples and we will take action on those results immediately,” he said “Those actions will mean increasing chemicals within the cooling towers to make sure that if there are any bacteria that we are actually killing them.”
The DOH is urging residents in the Flushing area with respiratory symptoms, such as fever, cough, chills and muscle aches to seek medical attention and alerted health care providers in the area about this cluster. Legionnaires’ can be treated by using antibiotics for pneumonia. Every year, there are between 200 and 400 cases of Legionnaires’ disease in the city, the DOH said.
U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-Flushing) said her office will stay in touch with the DOH during their investigation.
“I will be monitoring developments closely and urge area residents to follow the recommendations of the Health Department,” she said. “I thank the Department of Health for moving quickly to investigate this matter, and for raising awareness in the community.”
Reach Gina Martinez by e-mail at gmart