2017-11-01 / Features

Legionnaires’ Disease In Downtown Flushing

The Health Department is currently investigating a community cluster of Legionnaires’ disease cases in downtown Flushing. The total number of confirmed cases in this cluster to 14. As of October 26, 12 patients have been released from the hospital and two are still hospitalized. No patients have died. It’s important to note that all cases were diagnosed before October 19. The Health Department has inspected and sampled all active cooling towers in the area of concern, and issued Commissioner’s Orders to 10 towers with preliminary positive results requiring immediate remediation. The Department urges residents in the area with respiratory symptoms, such as fever, cough, chills and muscle aches, to promptly seek medical attention.

The Health Department is actively investigating these cases and has taken water samples from all cooling tower systems within the investigation zone to test for Legionella, the bacteria that causes Legionnaires’ disease. To raise awareness in the community, the department and the Mayor’s Office are working with elected officials and sending outreach teams to transit hubs and senior centers in the area to distribute information about Legionnaires’ disease. The Health Department is also organizing a community meeting to inform residents, answer questions and address any concerns on October 30, 6 p.m. at Flushing Town Hall, 137-35 Northern Blvd, Flushing, NY 11354.

The department has alerted health care providers in the area about this cluster. Legionnaires’ disease is an infection that is treatable using antibiotics for pneumonia. Every year, there are between 200 and 400 cases of Legionnaires’ disease in the city.

U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-Flushing) issued the following statement on the New York City Department of Health investigation.

“My office has been in touch with the Department of Health and I remain in contact with the agency as it investigates the cluster of Legionnaires’ disease cases in Flushing. I will be monitoring developments closely and urge area residents to follow the recommendations of the Health Department.

“I thank the Department of Health for moving quickly to investigate this matter, and for raising awareness in the community.”

In response to the Legionnaires’ disease outbreaks of 2015, the Mayor and City Council passed Local Law 77 to reduce and contain Legionella growth in cooling towers, becoming the first U.S. municipality to adopt a set of robust requirements to ensure cooling tower maintenance. In addition to implementing the most aggressive cooling tower regulation in the nation, this included the hiring of more inspectors and training of city personnel to inspect towers and increase capacity to conduct lab testing.

Legionnaires’ disease cannot be spread from person to person. Groups at highest risk for Legionnaires’ disease include people who are middle-aged or older, especially cigarette smokers, people with chronic lung disease or weakened immune systems and people who take medicines that weaken their immune systems (immuno-suppressive drugs). Those with symptoms should call their doctors and ask about testing for Legionnaires’ disease.

There are 55 cooling towers in the area of concern.

The Health Department issued Commissioner’s Orders to immediately increase the use of biocides that kill the bacteria, or to change the biocide previously used, and to report their compliance with the Order to the Department.

The biocide remediation is a precautionary step while the second step, growing the bacteria in culture, is being done to determine the presence of the live bacteria that causes Legionnaires’ disease. It takes two weeks to allow bacteria adequate time to grow. A positive culture indicates the presence of bacteria capable of causing disease. The Department will order the owner of any building with a positive culture result to fully clean and disinfect the cooling tower.

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