BY JON CRONIN
The city Department of Health (DOH) announced that there have been two cases of Legionnaires’ disease in the same Rego Park apartment building.
The agency noted that only one patient remains in the hospital and that the two were diagnosed six months apart.
“While the risk of infection to tenants is very low, as part of the routine protocol to assess potential sources of Legionnaires’ disease, the Health Department is working with the building management to test the building’s water supply,” said Julien Martinez, a spokesman for the DOH.
He noted that the bacteria for this strain of pneumonia are found within water systems, such as indoor plumbing. The disease is not contagious and is treatable with antibiotics. It is spread through water vapor containing the bacteria. The DOH suggests that anyone with flu-like symptoms or difficulty breathing get immediate medical attention.
The DOH’s protocol is to notify the public whenever there are two or more cases of Legionnaires’ disease reported at the same address within a 12-month period.
This week, the landlord and tenants were notified and engaged in a meeting to inform the residents of the investigation. The DOH is currently testing the water. Residents can use and drink the water, but people over age 50, especially those who smoke or have chronic lung problems, should take extra precautions.
Anyone using hot water to bathe or wash dishes should minimize time in the room when the water is filling the tub or sink—and the DOH recommends filling it slowly. It is important for residents to continually wash their hands.
The DOH has expanded its laboratory capacity, increased regulations on cooling towers (a source of the disease) and hired more inspectors after the outbreak in the South Bronx in 2015.
There is an average of 200 to 400 Legionnaires’ disease cases reported in the city every year. In 2016, there were 216 cases reported.
The Alliance to Prevent Legionnaires’ Disease released a statement expressing disappointment with the DOH’s response.
“Not including this most recent diagnosis, 212 people in New York City have reported cases of Legionnaires’ disease to the CDC so far in 2017,” the statement read. “That’s an 81 percent increase in cases over the same amount of time in 2016.”
The alliance believes that the disease is preventable and that focusing on building equipment is a “narrow-minded” approach.