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Legionnaires' has sickened 108 in NYC, but outbreak appears to be ebbing, officials say

Legionnaires' disease is a severe form of pneumonia

Legionnaires' disease is a severe form of pneumonia caused by a type of bacteria called Legionella, according to the CDC. This colorized scanning electron micrograph with moderately-high magnification depicts a large grouping of Gram-negative Legionella pneumophila bacteria. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons / CDC

New York City's worst known Legionnaires' disease outbreak in history has now sickened 108 people in the South Bronx, though no new cases have been reported in recent days as the flare-up appears to be flaming out, officials said Saturday.

The previous tally, given Friday, had been 101. News of new infections sometimes takes several days to get to the city.

So far, 10 people, all older adults with pre-existing health problems, have died of Legionnaires', a treatable bacterial pneumonia.

Speaking Saturday at the city's emergency-management headquarters, Mayor Bill de Blasio said testing identified five new buildings, all in the South Bronx, whose cooling towers had the germs, bringing the total to 10. The towers are atop buildings for Verizon, two courts, a defunct post office and a high school. All have been decontaminated, he said. One or more of the original five towers, which can spread Legionnaires' through air mist, are the suspected source.

Even though the outbreak is concentrated in the South Bronx, the city health commissioner, Dr. Mary Bassett, has ordered that all buildings citywide with cooling towers be inspected within weeks and, if necessary, decontaminated. A law to create a registry and regular inspection regimen is to be voted on Thursday at the City Council, de Blasio said.

But as thousands of such towers are inspected, he warned, many more could be found to contain the bacteria -- even as they pose little threat. "There are buildings in every part of this country that have Legionnaires' . . . bacteria present," he said. "It is not the same thing as anyone getting sick."

Asked about Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's differing assessment of the outbreak -- Cuomo on Friday called the situation "like a bad science fiction movie" about which people in the Bronx "have a good reason to be concerned" -- de Blasio said, "Folks who aren't doctors, myself included, have to always recognize the fact that we know some things. Other things, we don't know as well." He then turned to Bassett, who agreed, as did the head of the city's public hospital system, Dr. Ramanathan Raju.

"I believe in God," Raju said. "Everybody else brings data. So based on the data, I am convinced that this is tapering off."

Cuomo has ordered state teams to the Bronx to help with testing and decontamination. On Saturday, they also hit areas such as Kingsbridge and Fordham, outside of the so-called catchment area inspected by the city.

Dr. Howard Zucker, the state health commissioner, expected the test results in about a week.

"I guarantee that we will find very helpful information," he told Newsday.


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