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Legionnaires' Disease Sickens Two Flushing Residents, City Officials Say

By  Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska and Katie Honan | August 1, 2017 3:20pm 

 Two cases of Legionnaires’ disease occurred in this building within Latimer Gardens complex.
Two cases of Legionnaires’ disease occurred in this building within Latimer Gardens complex.
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DNAinfo/Katie Honan

QUEENS — The city is testing the water distribution system at a Flushing NYCHA complex after two residents — including one who remains hospitalized — got sick with Legionnaires' disease over a 12-month period, officials said.

The Health Department is currently investigating two cases of Legionnaires’ disease at Latimer Gardens that occurred within the same building over a year period," department spokesman Christopher Miller said in a statement.

The residents of the building at 34-20 137th St. — one of four in the complex — were diagnosed 10 months apart, the agency said. One was eventually discharged from the hospital. The department would only say that the second person was diagnosed within the past two months. 

According to notices posted by NYCHA and the Health Department inside the complex, the city is currently “performing tests to the water distribution system" in the building.

Miller said that the agency is conducting the tests as "part of routine protocol to assess potential sources of Legionnaires’ disease," and noted that "the risk of infection to tenants is very low."

Photo: DNAinfo/Katie Honan

Last Wednesday, the agency said, its staff informed residents of the building about the investigation.

The Health Department also held a meeting for tenants last Thursday and then on Friday for those attending a senior center located within the complex. 

But some residents said they were not aware of the meetings.

“They never told us, I just sort of noticed the sign,” said D. Lee, who moved to Latimer Gardens about four years ago, and said she missed the meeting because she only saw the notice last Friday when it was already too late.

At the meeting, residents were told that one person got sick at the end of last year and the other one sometime this year, according to Robert Barry, 73, who has lived in the complex for nearly five decades and attended the meeting.

“They're checking the water in certain apartments,” Barry said.

The notices advise the tenants that they can still use and drink water, but those with weakened immune systems can take additional precautions to avoid water vapor, such as taking baths instead of showers.

The agency also said that this Wednesday, out of an abundance of caution, and before testing results are available, NYCHA will begin installing a copper silver ionization system in the complex, used to combat Legionella bacteria — typically found in water systems — which causes Legionnaires' disease.

The illness — a type of pneumonia — causes flu-like symptoms, such as fever, cough and difficulty breathing, according to Department of Health officials. It is not contagious, as people can only get sick by breathing in water vapor containing the bacteria, and is easily treatable with antibiotics, the agency said.

This is the city's latest case of Legionnaires' disease.

In June, a Legionnaires' disease outbreak killed one person and infected six others in the Lenox Hill area around Third Avenue and East 70th Street, according to Department of Health officials.

Only several days later, at least two police officers from the 23rd Precinct in Harlem were also diagnosed with Legionnaires' disease, officials said.

The largest outbreak, traced to 15 cooling towers, was in 2015 in the South Bronx, killing 12 people and sickening more than 120.

The Flushing building has no cooling tower, the agency said. 

The city noted that it receives an average of 200 to 400 reports of the disease per year. 

Officials are obliged to notify tenants when there are two or more cases reported at a single address in a one-year period.