NEW YORK CITY – July 25, 2007 –Following an increase in cases of Legionnaires’ disease in the Parkchester area of the Bronx over the past year, the Health Department is asking doctors to test for the condition when examining patients with respiratory symptoms. Legionnaires’ disease is a serious but treatable respiratory infection. Healthy people are not generally susceptible, but the illness can be fatal in older people and in those with lung disease or weakened immune systems. The Health Department is also advising certain area residents – those with weakened immune systems or chronic diseases – to see a doctor for testing if they develop a cough with fever and chills or experience difficulty breathing.
Legionella, the bacterium that causes the disease, thrives in water distribution systems, cooling towers, whirlpools and outdoor fountains. People contract the infection by inhaling mist from a contaminated water source. Legionella cannot be passed from person to person, and is not typically found in window air conditioners.
Although Legionnaires’ disease cases have increased citywide in recent years, Parkchester, with 27 cases last fall, was affected at four times the citywide rate in 2006 (9.3 cases per 100,000 people versus 2.3 per 100,000). No additional cases were diagnosed in Parkchester between October 2006 and April 2007, but the area has experienced four new cases since April. Among the 31 cases, most were older and had an underlying illness; six of the patients have died.
“With the correct tests, Legionnaires’ disease can be diagnosed and effectively treated,” said Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, New York City Health Commissioner. “Legionnaires’ disease is most common in the summer and fall, that’s why we’re reaching out to residents and to area doctors to remind them to test patients with symptoms of pneumonia.”
Residents of this area who develop fever, chills and cough should see a doctor for testing if they fall into one or more of the following risk groups:
- older people (aged 65 or older)
- people with chronic lung disease
- people who have weakened immune systems as a result of illness, kidney dialysis or drugs that suppress the immune system
The Health Department staff will work through community boards and local groups to inform area residents and answer their questions. City medical providers have been advised of the cluster and are urged to consider the diagnosis in people with symptoms. Confirmed cases must be reported immediately to help identify the source, or sources, of this increase.
The Health Department is interviewing all patients and sampling water systems in an effort to identify common sources of infection, if possible. Legionnaires’ outbreaks follow a seasonal pattern and often end without clear explanation.
Legionnaires’ disease is not uncommon in New York City. The Health Department recorded 180 cases in 2006 and approximately 120 cases in 2005. Incidence has risen throughout the tri-state area over the past five years.
For more information please visit, http://www.nyc.gov/html/doh/downloads/pdf/cd/cd-faq-legionnaires.pdf.