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Legionnaires' Disease Sickens Resident of Melrose Houses

By Eddie Small | September 2, 2015 7:11pm
 The Health Department and NYCHA held a meeting on Wednesday to discuss the Legionnaires' disease cases at Melrose Houses.
The Health Department and NYCHA held a meeting on Wednesday to discuss the Legionnaires' disease cases at Melrose Houses.
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DNAinfo/Eddie Small

MELROSE — A Melrose Houses resident has been hospitalized with Legionnaires' disease and the city is installing filters in tenants' apartments to prevent it from spreading further, according to a statement from the Health Department obtained by DNAinfo New York.

There have been four cases of the disease — which killed 12 people in the South Bronx this summer — at the public housing complex in the last six months: one in March, two during the recent outbreak, and one this week, according to the Health Department.

The infected patient remains hospitalized, while the other three people were treated and released.

Two of the cases occurred in the same building of Melrose Houses complex at 681 Courtlandt Ave., which sparked the department's investigation, Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett said at a Wednesday night meeting about the disease.

A Health Department investigation into Melrose Houses found Legionella bacteria, which causes the disease, in the area of the water distribution system where hot water is generated at 681 Courtlandt Ave.

Two other buildings tested negative, and the city is still waiting for results from five other buildings.

Special water filters that eliminate the bacteria are being installed in every apartment of the affected building on residents' kitchen faucets, bathroom faucets and shower heads, the Health Department and NYCHA said.

Hot water there has been shut off and should return after the filters are installed, which should take about 24 hours.

"This plan will apply to any building that preliminarily tests positive," Bassett said in a statement. "Long-term plans for disinfection are also being developed."

The long-term plan for the building is to install a copper-silver ionization system, which should take less than a week to put in place, according to NYCHA.

Officials stressed that it was still safe to drink and bathe with water at Melrose Houses and at 681 Courtlandt Ave., and Deputy Commissioner of the Health Department Dr. Jay Varma stressed that the city was not even positive that the infected Melrose Houses residents had gotten sick from their own water system.

"We can’t say with 100 percent certainty if all of the people in the Melrose Houses ... whether they got this specific infection from a cooling tower, like the outbreak, whether they got it from the water in Melrose Houses, or if they got it somewhere else."

The Health Department declared an end to the outbreak of Legionnaires' disease in the South Bronx on Aug. 20, after it had killed 12 people and infected more than 120 others.

Melrose Houses resident Linda Green attended Wednesday night's meeting and questioned why the city had not examined Legionnaires' disease at the development earlier.

"You guys knew about this six months ago in March," she said. "Why are we just now finding out about it?"

Bassett stressed that a single case of Legionnaires' disease was not enough to spark an investigation and that the illness was not something the Health Department could eradicate altogether.

"We cannot eliminate this disease any more than we can eliminate pneumonia," she said. "It's something that's in our environment, and these bacteria are everywhere. But sometimes we have outbreaks, and that's when we can locate a source."