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BP Calls for Inspections After Third Legionnaires' Death in The Bronx

By  Eddie Small Gwynne Hogan and Ben Fractenberg | July 31, 2015 4:41pm | Updated on July 31, 2015 6:43pm

 The Health Department is investigating an outbreak of Legionnaire's Disease in the South Bronx.
The Health Department is investigating an outbreak of Legionnaire's Disease in the South Bronx.
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Kateryna Kon

THE BRONX — A third person died after contracting Legionnaires' disease and the number of people sickened in the borough rose to 57 people, the mayor's office confirmed.

News of the third death prompted Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. to call for regular city inspections of building air conditioning systems and water infrastructure after the second outbreak in the borough this year.

In January, 12 people in Co-op City were afflicted with the disease that was traced back to the building's cooling system. 

"The city must create a new inspection system for these systems, just as we inspect other critical systems such as elevators," Diaz said in a statement.

"My office will work with our City Council members and the appropriate agencies to craft new legislation that would deal with this issue in the coming days."

Middle-aged to older people living in lower-income communities, like The Bronx, are more susceptible to getting the disease, as rates of other ailments like diabetes and heart conditions are higher, according to the CDC. 

All three people who died after contracting the disease recently suffered from other ailments, including lung and heart conditions, according to the New York City Health Department. 

The median age for those infected was 54 and men were found to be more susceptible to being infected. 

The bacteria was also found in cooling towers on top of Lincoln Hospital and Concourse Plaza. Both were decontaminated on Thursday, according the mayor's office. 

The bacteria is spread through mist from the cooling towers and cannot be transmitted by person-to-person contact, officials added.

There has also been no sign that the bacteria is in the city’s water supply, which remains safe to drink, according to the New York City Health Department.

A manager at the hotel confirmed that the bacteria was found in the cooling system, but that it would not affect the air or water quality in the hotel because of its filtration system. 

The contractors were cleaning the cooling unit on top of the hotel a little after 4 p.m., the manager confirmed. 

None of the 57 people infected with the disease had stayed at the hotel, officials said. 

“We have taken precautions to make sure it doesn’t spread or doesn’t become worse,” said Julio Vargas, a manager at the Bronx Opera House Hotel.

The mayor's office said more deaths were possible, especially for people already in a frail state.

“Mayor de Blasio is saddened to hear of another death, and this is why he is urging people with flu-like symptoms to visit a doctor immediately," said press secretary Karen Hinton in a statement.  

"City health officials are working around the clock to clean and contain the contamination. They are testing for and cleaning contamination as quickly as possible.”

So far, 22 buildings have been visited and 17 cooling towers have been tested, according to officials.

Investigators have gotten results back from 11 systems, including the Opera House's, and results from the remaining six towers are expected Friday evening.