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Legionnaires' outbreak leaves health officials concerned

The outbreak of 31 Legionnaires' Disease cases in the Bronx has led to an investigation by the Health Department.

Thirty-one cases of Legionnaires' disease have been reported in the Bronx since JuBSIP/UIG Via Getty Images

New York health officialsare tracking an outbreak of nearly three dozen cases of Legionnaires’ disease that have been reported in the Bronx over the last two weeks.

The disease led to two deaths and the Health Department is actively investigating their relationship to the outbreak. The department is testing water from cooling towers and other potential sources in the area to determine where the outbreak started.

Legionnaires’ disease (also known as Legionellosis) is a severe and often lethal form of pneumonia that is the result of legionella bacteria infecting one’s lungs. Symptoms include fever, chills, headache, fatigue and confusion. The New York City health department reported 31 cases of Legionnaires’ Disease since July 10.

Most cases of Legionnaires’ Disease can be traced to plumbing systems such as whirlpool spas, hot tubs, humidifiers, hot water tanks, cooling towers and evaporative condensers of large air-conditioning systems.

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The Health Department expressed concern about the “unusual increase” in cases of Legionnaires’Disease in the South Bronx.

“We are conducting a swift investigation to determine the source of the outbreak and prevent future cases,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett in a press release. “I urge anyone with symptoms to seek medical attention right away.”

The disease is not contagious and cannot be spread from person to person and those at high risk include people who are middle-aged or older (particularly smokers), people with chronic lung disease or weakened immune systems or those who take immunosuppressive drugs.

In April and May 2015, 13 people got sick with Legionnaires’ disease in Flushing, Queens. The Health Department found that three of the people lived in Bland House and they recommended that no one use the tap water in the senior center until further notice, according to the city.

The disease got its name back in 1976,when the first outbreak occurred in a Philadelphia hotel where thePennsylvania American Legion was having a convention and the organism, Legionella, was identified as the cause.

The disease is treated with antibiotics and most people will get better with early treatment, although hospitalization is sometimes necessary. In rare cases, people may get very sick or even die from complications of the disease, according to the Health Department.

Legionnaires’ symptoms usually appear within two to 10 days after significant exposure to Legionella bacteria, those experiencing symptoms should call their doctor.

Source: Breathing in water vapors containing the bacteria typically from a hot tub, shower, humidifier or air-conditioning unit. It is not contagious and cannot be spread from person to person.

Symptoms:Fever, chills, muscle aches, cough, headache, fatigue, loss of appetite and confusion.

Treatment:Antibiotics, possible hospitalization.

Prevention:The best way to prevent an outbreak is to ensure any water system is properly maintained and conforms relevant health and safety regulations, in this case because Legionella is commonly found in water it would be pertinent to regulate the water temperature in the systems.

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