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Rikers Inmate Tests Positive for Legionnaires' Disease

By  Murray Weiss and Jeff Mays | August 11, 2015 7:17pm 

 The entrance to Rikers Island.
The entrance to Rikers Island.
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Katie Honan/DNAinfo

THE BRONX — An inmate on Rikers Island has tested positive for Legionnaires' disease.

The unidentified 63-year-old inmate has been incarcerated at the city jail since December 2014, according to city officials. The inmate was a patient at the Department of Corrections' Bellevue Hospital Ward suffering from underlying conditions when he was diagnosed.

"This case is not believed to be associated with the South Bronx Legionnaires’ outbreak," said Monica Klein, a spokeswoman for Mayor Bill de Blasio. "The patient is being treated with antibiotics."

Klein said that all six of the DOC’s  active cooling towers were disinfected last month. Out of an "abundance of caution," all six towers are being cleaned again.

Cooling towers circulate water to cool air conditioning equipment and is separate from the drinking supply of water. As the water is heated and cooled it can spread as a mist in the air, thereby spreading legionella bacteria if the tank is contaminated.

"DOC has consulted with the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and taken precautions to minimize the risks associated with this form of bacteria," Klein added.

De Blasio, speaking Tuesday at a Bronx senior center, said that 115 people had contracted the disease which has killed 12 people.

The outbreak is the worst in the city's history. The mayor also said there have been no new infections since Aug. 3.

"We are confident that the Legionnaires' outbreak is now ending," de Blasio told the crowd at the senior center.

Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett said the city sees between 200 and 300 cases of Legionnaires' disease per year, many of which are isolated cases and not outbreaks of the type we are seeing now.

The disease has been found in a total of 18 buildings, 11 of which are in the "impact zone" of the cluster. The other seven buildings fall outside of that zone and may not be tied to the current outbreak.

The infected inmate has been to court twice since he has been in DOC custody. Neither was within the two to 10 day incubation period for Legionnaires'.

DOC informed DOC managerial staff and the Corrections Officers' Benevolent Association of the infection at 3 pm Tuesday.

Bassett issued an order requiring all cleaning towers within the city to be cleaned within the next nine days.

City and state officials also announced today that they would pass joint legislation governing the registration and inspection of cooling towers.