The Opera House Hotel in the South Bronx, New York City, has been identified as the source of the Legionnaires’ Disease outbreak that has sickened 124 people and killed 12. The New York City Health Department has put out a map showing the affected areas where the outbreak pattern was found.
Many of the patients live within a short distance of that hotel. All patient results match the outbreak pattern.
The outbreak timeline is telling. The investigation began on July 20, 2015 with reports of people sickened with this pneumonia-like illness. From July 21 through the 27, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) investigated the outbreak, and started sampling cooling towers in the area on July 28.
On July 29, 2015, the Opera House Hotel tested positive for Legionella bacteria. The city ordered the hotel to disinfect its cooling towers. That was completed on August 1, 2015. On August 3, 2015, the last case in the South Bronx cluster became ill. There have been no more cases since the hotel’s cooling towers were disinfected.
On August 20, 2015, cooling towers at the Opera House Hotel were confirmed as the source of the outbreak. Cooling towers are used as a part of a building’s air conditioning and ventilation systems. That water in those towers can stand for long periods of time, so it can be contaminated with bacteria.
The Legionella bacteria rides on mist that is expelled from cooling towers. When a person, especially one with underlying medical conditions and over the age of 50, inhales that mist, he can become ill with this dangerous disease.
The symptoms of Legionnaires’ Disease are like pneumonia. They include cough, shortness of breath, high fever, muscle aches, and headache. Anywhere from 5 to 30% of Legionnaires’ Disease patients die.
If you live in the South Bronx, especially if you live near the Opera House Hotel, and have experienced these symptoms, please see your doctor. This illness is treatable with antibiotics, but for the best outcome, early treatment is essential.