The DNAinfo archives brought to you by WNYC.
Read the press release here.

De Blasio Says South Bronx Legionnaires' Outbreak is 'Contained'

By Jeff Mays | August 13, 2015 6:16pm
 The worst Legionnaire's disease outbreak in the city's history which has now killed 12 people and sickened 121 in the South Bronx has been
The worst Legionnaire's disease outbreak in the city's history which has now killed 12 people and sickened 121 in the South Bronx has been "contained," Mayor Bill de Blasio and the city's health commissioner said Thursday.
View Full Caption
DNAinfo/Jeff Mays

MOTT HAVEN — The worst Legionnaire's disease outbreak in the city's history, which has now killed 12 people and sickened 121, has been "contained," Mayor Bill de Blasio said Thursday.

While the total number of people infected by the disease has climbed to 121 from 119 on Wednesday, no new cases linked to the South Bronx cluster have been diagnosed in 10 days, said Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett.

"We've been saying very consistently that this has been contained and we have no new cases," de Blasio said during a press conference at Lincoln Hospital.

Bassett explained that the city won't be able to say the outbreak is over until 14 days after they determine the source of the outbreak and it is decontaminated.

Officials believe that one or more of several cooling towers in the South Bronx is the likely source of the outbreak but are awaiting the results of molecular testing to determine the culprit.

"Our epidemiological data, which shows a rapid decline in cases which have been diagnosed, is very heartening," said Bassett.

But because the legionella bacteria, which causes Legionnaires' disease, is in the natural environment and the city already sees 200 to 300 cases per year, it is unlikely that cases will fall to zero, said Bassett.

The press conference comes after de Blasio faced criticism from other leaders such as Comptroller Scott Stringer about the handling of the outbreak. Stringer said on a radio show Wednesday that the city "didn't scramble the planes fast enough."

Asked to rate the city's response to the outbreak, Dr. Matthew Moore, a medical epidemiologist for the Centers for Disease Control, gave high marks.

"If I were to characterize the response of the health department I would describe it as swift, very diligent and robust," Moore said.

During disease outbreaks, Moore said there is sometimes a tendency to "jump to conclusions too quickly."

"The Health Department's response has been very, very appropriate and consistent with the seriousness of the outbreak," Moore added.

De Blasio's visit to Lincoln Hospital to thank the staff there who treated more than 40 Legionnaires' disease patients came on the same day that the City Council passed legislation regulating the cleaning and inspection of cooling towers.

Under the legislation, which passed 42-0, building owners will have to register all cooling towers with the Department of Buildings and owners must submit a maintenance plan for the cooling towers.

The cooling tower water must be tested quarterly. If the water tests positive for legionella the city must be notified and the cooling towers must be cleaned and disinfected by an independent third party.

The city will have the power to go in and clean cooling towers in situations where the owner won't comply.

Penalties for failing to abide by the law include civil fines of $2,000 to $5,000 and a penalty of $10,000 for any violation that result in death or serious injury. Criminal penalties include fines of $25,000 and up to a year in jail.

The state plans to adopt similar regulations statewide.

Bassett, who has already issued an order requiring all city cooling towers to be cleaned, said the new law will also likely lower the overall number of Legionnaires' disease diagnosis the city sees each year.

"We think that maintenance of cleaning towers is extremely important," Moore said. "If they are not maintained properly then the legionella that are in that cooling tower can grow into large numbers and then be released into the atmosphere."