A Legionnaires’ Disease outbreak at St. Joseph’s Hospital Health Center in Syracuse New York has sickened at least two people. While the President and CEO of that facility, Kathryn Ruscitto, has issued statements about the bacteria being found in the hospital’s water supply, no official reports have been released acknowledging the outbreak except indirectly.
The announcements have not mentioned the illnesses and officials have allegedly denied that there is an outbreak. Governor Cuomo issued a statement on October 25, 2015 announcing that an investigation is being launched after Legionella bacteria were found at the hospital, but that bulletin did not mention any illnesses either. An outbreak is defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as two or more persons who are not related to each other, who become ill in the same place at about the same time.
Instead, Dr. Sandra Sulick, a vice president at the hospital, told Syracuse.com that at least two patients contracted the illness in the hospital within the last month. Apparently, a third person was also diagnosed and has since died, but doctors have not been able to determine if that person contracted the illness from the hospital or elsewhere in the community.
The latest news release from Ms. Ruscitto stated, “There have been no new cases of hospital acquired Legionella in the hospital in the last three weeks.” It also stated that “Except for patient privacy matters, we have not withheld information from reporters or any other audiences who have contacted us.”
The hospital’s 11 cooling towers tested negative, according to the governor’s report, but other tests discovered Legionella bacteria in the building’s water system. The samples that tested positive are undergoing further testing to see whether the bacteria is pathogenic. The hospital had been using bottled water for drinking, but those restrictions were lifted on Monday.
The original testing that discovered the problem was part of a mandate put in place by Governor Cuomo after a Legionnaires’ Disease outbreak in the South Bronx killed 12 people and sickened 124. All buildings in the state had to test their water supplies after that devastating outbreak.
The symptoms of Legionnaires’ Disease include cough, shortness of breath, high fever, muscle aches, and headaches. Those who are most likely to contract the illness include those over the age of 60, former or current smokers, people with chronic lung diseases, and those with weakened immune systems. This is a serious illness; up to 30% of patients die.
The bacteria live in water, especially water that sits for long periods of time. Cooling towers and plumbing systems in large and older buildings are especially susceptible to Legionella bacteria. The bacteria escape in mist or spray. When inhaled, a person can get sick with the pneumonia-like illness. Many people are not correctly diagnosed with Legionnaires’ Disease because the symptoms are so similar to pneumonia. It’s only when several people living in the same area exhibit the same symptoms that doctors may test for the illness.