New York City Legionnaires cluster up to 18 cases, 1 death reported

The number of cases of Legionnaires' Disease in a cluster in Upper Manhattan has risen to 18, including one fatality, health officials said Tuesday.

Seven people remain hospitalized following the outbreak in Lower Washington Heights and Upper Hamilton Heights. The person who died has not been identified but is said to be older than 50 with underlying medical conditions.

All suspect cooling towers have been cleaned, and pending final test results, officials believe the cluster has been contained.

Anyone in the area with flu-like symptoms should see a doctor immediately.
60-year-old Lorenzo McDougan is still on a nebulizer, trying to clear out his lungs. Two months after coming down with Legionnaires' disease, he is still not 100 percent.

"I was never that sick in my life," he said.

Lorenzo was diagnosed in May. He is not counted in the latest Legionnaires' cluster in his neighborhood.

"Critical - if you're not feeling well, if you're in a risk group, make sure that you seek medical care," said Deputy Health Commissioner Dr. Demeter Daskalakis. .

While nine patients remain hospitalized, officials explain Legionnaires' is easily cured with antibiotics. The key is getting treated immediately.

The health department has pinpointed 20 water cooling towers that might be the culprit. We're told they have all been cleaned and that the problem is now contained.

"You cannot catch Legionnaires' from someone sneezing, coughing, hugging you or shaking your hand. Legionnaires' is not contagious," said City Councilman Mark Levine.

There is a two week incubation period for the legionella bacteria to manifest, which means even if the towers are now clear, there could be more patients in the next two weeks.

Legionnaires' disease is a form of bacterial pneumonia. The elderly are at the highest risk. The disease is potentially fatal but can be effectively treated with an early diagnosis.

People contract Legionnaires' disease by breathing in water vapor that contains bacteria. Health officials are testing water from all cooling tower systems in the area of the cluster.

Adults with flu-like symptoms, cough, fever or difficulty breathing should contact a physician immediately.

"While most people exposed to Legionella don't get sick, individuals ages 50 and above, especially those who smoke and have chronic lung conditions, are at a higher risk," Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett said. "This disease is very treatable with antibiotics. I encourage anyone with symptoms of Legionnaires' disease to seek care early."

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