The most recent outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in New York City isn’t looking too good.
But as the New York Times recently pointed out, a 2014 study published by NYC department of health researchers warned of the possibility of a Legionairres’ outbreak that’s eerily similar to the one that’s unfolding now.
According to the Times, the study not only “documented the rapid increase in cases of the disease,” but also “pointed to cooling towers as a risk factor in outbreaks.” It also highlighted the tendency for the disease to break out in low-income neighbourhoods like the South Bronx.
Since July 10, 2015, 86 people have been sickened in the South Bronx from Legionnaires’; seven have died.
What is Legionnaires‘?
Legionella bacteria were discovered in 1976. The disease they cause, Legionnaires’, is not spread by person-to-person contact; the bacteria thrive in infected water, and especially in mist. In the most recent case, researchers have linked the outbreak to the cooling towers used in the air conditioning systems of hospitals, along with whirlpool spas and grocery store misters.
Legionnaires’ is a type of pneumonia which mainly attacks the lungs and causes fevers and muscle aches along the way. It can take up to 10 days for symptoms to show up, which means there’s a delay in figuring out if there’s an outbreak underway.
The disease is also linked with socioeconomic factors. According to the 2014 study, the highest-poverty areas in New York City had on average three cases a year, while more wealthy areas had an average of 1.2 cases a year. The researchers also warned that “if environmental issues in high-poverty neighbourhoods contribute to the disparity, greater effort may be warranted, for example, on the upkeep of cooling towers and water systems in the buildings in these areas.”
The Bronx, where the outbreak is occurring, is New York’s poorest borough, with about 30% of its 1.4 million residents living below the poverty line.
Legionnaires’ is also more susceptible to people with existing health conditions — all of the people who have died from it so far have been older adults who were sick before picking up the bacteria.
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