One Dead and Six Hospitalized from Legionnaires' Disease on Upper East Side

Email a Friend
A large grouping of Legionella pneumophila bacteria (Legionnaires' disease). The germ spreads into the lungs through water vapor or mist.

One person has died and six others have fallen ill due to Legionnaires' disease on Manhattan's Upper East Side.

All of the cases were confirmed in the past week-and-a-half, and each involved a person in the Lenox Hill neighborhood who was older than 65, according to the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygeine

Officials say the person who died was over 90-years-old and had "significant underlying health conditions." Four people are recovering from the disease in hospitals and two others have been discharged from the hospital.

Legionnaires' outbreak in the South Bronx two summers ago caused at least 12 deaths and sickened more than 100 people.

Symptoms of Legionnaires include fever, cough, chills, headache, diarrhea and confusion. Residents in the Lenox Hill area with symptoms are advised to seek medical attention immediately. A Legionnaires infection that is detected early can be treated with antibiotics. 

Health Department Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett said the infections on the Upper East Side most likely came from building cooling towers, as was the case two years ago in the Bronx, and not from drinking water. "People should feel free to wash their hands, drink the water," she said.

After the 2015 outbreak, the city required building owners to test their cooling towers every few months for Legionella, which is the bacteria that leads to Legionnaires' disease. Also, the city regularly makes unannounced inspections of cooling towers, Bassett said.

Despite those measures, reports of Legionnaires' infections are likely to become more frequent. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the number of people with Legionnaires’ disease grew four-fold between 2000 and 2014 across the country.

Bassett says cases have been increasing in New York City also, citing two big reasons. First, the city's population is aging, and older individuals with compromised immune systems are more susceptible to infection than the young and healthy. On top of that, Legionnaires' has become easier to diagnose in recent years, involving a simple urine test. 

While Legionella bacteria can't be eliminated from the environment, Bassett said the city will continue to monitor for outbreaks of the disease, and issue public notices when clusters of infections appear.