BY YVETTE BROWN
The South Bronx has undergone a major outbreak of Legionnaires’ Disease, but it was revealed last week that the bacteria was in Queens months before.
In April and May, 13 people got sick with the bacteria in Flushing, with three of them living in the Bland Houses located at 40-21 College Point Blvd, according to the Health Department. Their investigation led to the finding of a cooling tower in the Flushing area that had Legionella bacteria. The tower was disinfected and maintenance is being conducted to ensure it stays Legionella-free. The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene also found the bacteria in the water system at the Bland Houses senior center. The water supply is also being disinfected. The Health Department said that although this outbreak has taken place in Flushing, the bacteria has not been found there since May.
“The only water that tested positive for the bacteria was the water at the senior center,” said the Health Department in a written statement. “People living in an apartment at Bland Houses can drink and bathe with the tap water safely. The Health Department is disinfecting the water at the senior center and is working with Bland Houses to install a new disinfection system. Until the disinfection system is working fully, the Health Department recommends that no one use tap water in the senior center.”
Legionnaires’ Disease is a type of pneumonia that is caused by the Legionella bacteria. It grows in warm water and is commonly found in cooling towers which some buildings use for their air conditioning, heating or ventilation systems.
The Health Department explains that they have interviewed all patients with the bacteria to find out if multiple people got sick in the same place. Those who were interviewed were asked if they’ve visited Flushing or other parts of Queens to ensure that if there has been an increase in cases, they can take quick action.
Their advice for the residents living in Bland Houses is that there is no need to see your doctor if you’re not sick, but if you’re a resident and feeling any of the pneumonia symptoms such as a fever, cough, chills or muscle aches, then you should see your doctor right away and ask about a test for Legionnaires’ Disease.
Sen. Toby Ann Stavisky (D-Flushing) said that she feels the bacteria was contained well and that there were numerous conference calls made between her chief of staff , the Department of Health and other elected officials.
Stavisky said that the Health Department told her staff not to alert the public about the outbreak until it was isolated, and they knew where the source came from, so there wouldn’t be a community-wide panic.
“I think everyone handled it well, the city, the local hospitals and NYCHA,” she said.
The New York City Housing Authority hosted a meeting on May 15 for residents, visitors and staff of the senior center. Residents there were then informed of an ionization system to be installed on Aug. 5, and a meeting was held the following day involving residents and the Health Department. The results of ongoing tests will be shared with residents.
Councilman Peter Koo (D-Flushing) confirmed there have been no further outbreaks of the bacteria.
“We have been assured by the city that there have been no further outbreaks since then, and Bland Houses are being closely monitored for proper disinfection,” said Koo. “Now it’s essential that building owners comply with legislation that was signed into law today to register, inspect and regularly clean all cooling towers.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explained that an estimated 8,000 to 18,000 people are hospitalized with Legionnaires’ Disease each year in the United States and are naturally found in the environment in warm water and can not be transmitted from person to person. One can be infected with the bacteria when breathing in a mist or vapor contaminated with the infection. Most people with Legionnaires’ disease will have pneumonia since Legionella bacteria grows in the lungs. Keeping the bacteria out of water is the key to preventing the infection.
Mayor Bill de Blasio signed into law Intro 866 to regulating the cooling towers. This bill would ensure the registration of all cooling towers and include annual certification, quarterly inspection and reporting of increased microbes to the Department of Health. It would also include mandating the disinfection of cooling towers with levels of microbes that pose as potential health risks. Violations of this legislation could result in civil penalties between $10,000 and $25,000. The bill takes effect immediately and all building owners have 30 days to register their cooling towers.
“The recent Legionnaires’ outbreak has been an unprecedented challenge requiring an unprecedented response,” the mayor said.
Reach Yvette Brown at (718)357-7400 ext. 128, firstname.lastname@example.org or @eveywrites.