New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Monday that 12 people had died of Legionnaires’ disease in the South Bronx since the outbreak began on July 10.
But de Blasio said the outbreak was apparently on the wane, since the city had recorded no new cases in a week. The last report of sickness from the disease, he said, came on Aug. 3.
“We have no evidence over the last few days of any new cases of Legionnaires’. As we go through every passing day with no new sicknesses, it’s a very promising sign,” he said.
De Blasio reported 113 total cases; 76 people had been hospitalized and released.
He also outlined new proposed legislation to prevent future outbreaks. De Blasio said the proposal would require all existing cooling towers to be registered with the city’s Department of Buildings. It also requires regular inspection, testing, cleaning and disinfection. He said the city had created a voluntary online registration database for cooling towers.
De Blasio said the bill would go before the City Council for a hearing on Tuesday.
Legionnaires’ disease is a severe form of bacterial pneumonia caused by the bacteria legionella, which gets its name from an outbreak that killed 29 people attending an American Legion conference at a Philadelphia hotel in 1976.
The bacteria grow best in warm water, such as water in hot tubs, cooling towers, air conditioners, mist sprayers in grocery stores, hot water tanks, large plumbing systems and decorative fountains, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Legionella do not seem to grow in car or window air conditioners.
People get Legionnaires’ disease when they breathe in a mist or vapor containing the bacteria, such as the water droplets sprayed from a hot tub that hasn’t been properly cleaned, according to the CDC. The bacteria don’t spread from person to person, like the flu or a cold.
Between 5% and 30% of patients with Legionnaires’ die, according to the CDC.
Most people exposed to legionella don’t become sick. Smokers, the elderly and those with weakened immune systems are more susceptible than others to Legionnaires’ disease, according to the Mayo Clinic. Symptoms include fever, chills, headaches and muscle pain, which can progress to coughing, chest pain, nausea, vomiting and difficulty breathing.
City health authorities have said that all of the deaths in the South Bronx outbreak were of people with pre-existing health problems.
Speaking to reporters on Monday, de Blasio said 39 buildings in the impacted area of the South Bronx have a cooling tower of the type associated with the outbreak. Of those, he said, 12 had tested positive for the bacteria.
“All are in the process of disinfection or have been disinfected already,” he said. “All will be disinfected by today.”
Contributing: Liz Szabo, USA TODAY