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Symptoms and Treatment For Legionnaires' Disease in New York

New Yorkers have been hearing a lot about Legionnaires' disease this fall and past summer, with widespread and fatal outbreaks of the bacterial disease in the Bronx making headlines and spreading unease throughout the city. Although a July and August outbreak that sickened 124 and killed 12 was declared “over” on August 20 by city health officials, a new outbreak related to a cluster in Morris Park has recently sickened 13 and killed one.

What is Legionnaires' Disease and Where Does it Occur?

New York health officials report that on average, there are approximately 200 to 300 non-fatal cases of Legionnaires' disease in New York every year, but that clusters like the ones that have occurred around the Opera House Hotel, Melrose Houses, and Morris Park in the Bronx are relatively rare and can be more serious.

The disease is bacterial pneumonia, or lung infection, caused by the bacterium Legionella, which can also cause a milder infection called Pontiac fever. Both are often referred to collectively as legionellosis, and people contract the diseases by breathing in water vapor infected with the bacteria, according to 

Typically, the Legionella bacteria grow in poorly maintained water systems, including drinking water, hot tubs, fountains, and cooling towers used for air conditioning purposes. The water in the air conditioning systems drawn from cooling towers on rooftops is ripe for bacterial infection, especially in older buildings where the system may be older and more difficult to maintain.

Although the disease afflicts many -- estimates vary between 10,000 to 18,000 people each year -- city residents can be disproportionately at risk due to the bacteria growing in the water distribution systems of large hotels, hospitals, apartment complexes, and other city buildings.

Symptoms and Treatments for Legionnaires' Disease in New York

Be vigilant about your own health and seek medical care immediately if you begin to show any symptoms, including:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Headaches
  • Fever of 101ºF (38.3ºC) or higher
  • Muscle aches
  • Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
  • Confusion or disorientation
  • Cough, which may be accompanied by mucus or blood

The disease will develop within two to ten days after a person is exposed to legionella bacteria. Immediate treatment can be critical. The most at-risk populations include middle-aged people and seniors, especially those with compromised immune systems or weakened lungs. Cigarette smokers and those with chronic lung disease should be especially careful of exposure and on the lookout for symptoms if exposed to the bacteria.

The CDC sets the rate of death from Legionnaires’ disease as between 5 and 30 percent, with complications normally developing from lung failure and related issues. Most patients who die from Legionnaires’ disease have prior medical conditions exacerbated by bacterial pneumonia. Healthy people affected with the bacteria and given prompt medical attention usually recover after hospitalization and a treatment regimen of antibiotics, but early detection is key, so being able to quickly see a medical professional in an urgent care setting can be helpful for diagnosis. An urgent care centers can provide you with quality medical assessment and treatment quickly and without hassle or needing an appointment.

An urgent care medical professional can help you treat symptoms like headaches, nausea, or fever. A thorough physical examination which includes looking at your ears, eyes, throat, chest, neck, abdomen and skin can help discern the cause of fevers. You can also expect to be asked questions about your symptoms, including whether you began any new medications recently, how many days you’ve shown symptoms, whether you ate something that may have caused nausea, and whether your headaches or fever developed suddenly or occur in any patterns.

All of this information will assist a medical professional with making an assessment of your health and assisting you with whatever you need, including anti-nausea antiemetics, IV fluids if your sickness has rendered you dehydrated, antibiotics, and more. However, if you begin coughing blood or have severe chest pains, report to an emergency room immediately; urgent care provides convenient and excellent medical care only for nonlife-threatening emergencies.

In light of the frequency of Legionnaires’ outbreaks throughout the country, even though large clusters like the ones in the Bronx over the past few months are rare, it seems likely that Legionnaires’ disease will remain a serious health issue well into the future. For New Yorkers who live in older buildings, it’s important to make sure you’re fully informed about your building’s preventative measures, certifications, and testing schedules, and about the building’s plans for resident safety if an outbreak should occur. You should also be aware of all the symptoms of Legionnaires’ disease and the location of your nearest urgent care provider in the event that you become exposed to the bacteria. Getting yourself or a family member treated immediately for Legionnaires’ disease can ensure that you fully recover.



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