How serious is this outbreak?
The latest numbers suggest there are now around 65 cases of the disease reported in the South Bronx area of New York City, and four fatalities.
What is Legionnaires disease and how does it spread?
Legionnaires’ disease is a bacterial ailment classified as a type of pneumonia. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Legionnaires’ can be contracted by breathing in water mist that contains the bacteria but does not spread person-to-person.
The New York City Department of Health says the disease is generally traced to plumbing systems like hot tubs, humidifiers, cooling towers and large air conditioning systems. In this case, authorities have determined the disease has spread via five local cooling towers.
How common is it?
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates 8,000 to 18,000 people in the U.S. are hospitalized with Legionnaires’ disease each year. Those most at risk of infection are men and women over age 50, smokers, people with chronic lung disease and those with weak immune systems, according to the NIH. The New York Times reports that cases of Legionnaires’ disease in the city increased to 225 in 2014 compared to 73 cases reported in 2004.
Can it be treated?
Yes. Most people recover with antibiotics, but the disease can be severe, and in some cases, fatal. The fatality rate for the disease can be as high as 30% depending on the outbreak, according to the CDC.
What’s it like to have Legionnaires’ disease?
Most people who are infected will not get sick, but those who do can experience respiratory issues like fever, cough and chills. Symptoms of the infection usually do not emerge until two to 10 days after exposure. The Health Department has warned New Yorkers who experience these symptoms to seek medical attention.
How can I protect myself?
Be wary of sources of water vapor. Hot tubs are one of the more common carriers of Legionnaires’ bacteria, and the CDC recommends hot tub owners be especially diligent about disinfecting their tub’s water. The Times reports many New Yorkers in the affected area are drinking bottled water, though the city has said tap water is safe.