NEW YORK (AP) — The largest outbreak of Legionnaires’ Disease in New York City has taken the lives of 10 people and health officials Thursday ordered cooling towers on buildings throughout the city tested for the bacteria that causes the illness.
Since its appearance late last month in the South Bronx, 100 people have been diagnosed with the disease, a form of pneumonia caused by breathing in mist contaminated with the Legionella bacteria.
The disease is easily diagnosed and can be treated with antibiotics but poses a serious risk to anyone with an underlying medical condition. Officials said all 10 people who died had other complicating conditions.
The outbreak has been traced to cooling towers, which release mist. Five towers in the South Bronx tested positive for the bacteria and have since been decontaminated.
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Mayor Bill De Blasio stressed Thursday that the mandated tests are a precautionary measure and the city is “confident that we have already disinfected the source of this outbreak.”
The Health Department ordered that within the next 14 days, all buildings with cooling towers that haven’t been tested in the last 30 days be tested and any towers found contaminated be disinfected. Failure to comply is a misdemeanor.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the state Department of Health would offer free testing of cooling towers and evaporative condenser units, where the bacteria also can hide. The offer is good until October.
Cuomo also spoke with Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and confirmed that the federal agency would send a team to New York City on Friday to meet with state and city officials regarding the illness.
It’s not uncommon for the city to report cases of Legionnaires’ Disease but the cases usually aren’t clustered in one location as they are in this latest outbreak.
“We’ve never seen a situation like this before in New York City or, of course, these efforts would have been in place in advance,” the mayor said.
The illness gets its name from a 1976 outbreak at an American Legion convention in Philadelphia when 34 people died.
AP writer Jonathan Lemire contributed to this story.