SOUTH BRONX — Two people died and 31 people were sickened by Legionnaires' disease in Highbridge, Morrisania, Hunts Point and Mott Haven, the New York City Health Department said Wednesday.
Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett said the city has launched an investigation into the outbreak, which started on July 10 and that "disease detectives," are on the case.
"We know a lot about Legionnaires Disease, and we know a lot about outbreaks— we’ve investigated them over the years. This particular outbreak is still under investigation, so we have an evolving situation...in which the numbers may change," Bassett said at a City Hall press conference Wednesday.
The department is trying to determine the source of the outbreak by testing water from cooling towers, plumbing systems and other possible sources, and it has urged New Yorkers with symptoms such as muscle aches, chills, a fever and a cough to seek medical attention.
The illness cannot be spread from person to person, and groups at high risk for contracting it include people with chronic lung disease and people who are middle-aged or older, particularly if they smoke cigarettes, the Health Department said.
"But the most important thing to get across to people is this is a treatable disease if people with symptoms get medical care quickly – and we want to make sure anyone who has those symptoms knows them and gets care," Mayor Bill de Blasio said Wednesday.
Legionnaires' disease is caused by the bacteria Legionella, and most cases can be traced to plumbing systems like hot tubs, humidifiers and whirlpool spas, where conditions are favorable for the bacteria to grow.
The Health Department announced in January that preliminary tests had found that the cooling towers at Co-op City were contaminated with the bacteria.
"This is a common and readily treated pneumonia and we want to be sure that people get care and that the healthcare providers are thinking about this diagnosis," said Bassett.
"The symptoms are the ones that we see in pneumonia— fever, cough, difficulty breathing, headache, muscle pains, you can even have chills," the commissioner added. "These are symptoms that people should seek care for, especially if they are living in the South Bronx."