2 cases of Legionnaires' disease reported at Harlem public housing complex

Friday, September 2, 2016
2 cases of Legionnaires' reported at Harlem NYCHA complex
Tim Fleischer has the latest details.

HARLEM, Manhattan (WABC) -- New York City health officials are investigating new cases of Legionnaires' disease at a public housing complex in Manhattan.

Two people at the Rangel Houses in Harlem have been diagnosed with the disease.

The bacteria associated with Legionnaires' is typically found in water systems, and an ionization system is being installed in the building in an attempt to fight off any potential bacteria in the plumbing system.

"We are being proactive and installing this system to make sure everybody is as safe as possible," NYCHA's Brian Clark said.

Residents were clearly concerned after hearing of the two cases, and health officials were at the complex in an an effort to answer their questions.

"We need answers, not guess guess work," one resident said. "We're all concerned."

Officials have started an investigation of the two isolated cases and began testing the water in the one building.

"I want to stress this is an investigation," Department of Health director of community outreach Ricky Wong said. "We haven't confirmed that there is Legionnaires' in that building in any shape or form yet."

The Department of Health released the following statement:

"The health department is currently investigating two cases of Legionnaires' disease at NYCHA's Rangel Houses. While the risk of infection to residents is very low, as part of routine protocol to assess potential sources of Legionella, the Department is working with NYCHA to test the building's water supply. Legionella bacteria typically are found in water systems, including indoor plumbing. As a precaution to eliminate potential Legionella from the plumbing system, NYCHA is installing a copper-silver ionization system."

Following the department's new public notification protocol of Legionnaires' disease, tenants are notified when there are two or more cases reported at a single address in a one-year period.

"It takes about a couple of weeks before we get results," Wong said. "Once those results come out, negative or positive, and we will let the residents know is going on as well

In the meantime, older residents are advised to take a bath, not a shower, to minimize water vapor. Residents should also fill a sink slowly to wash dishes, and start with cold water when heating for coffee, tea or cooking. Masks are also not necessary.

Still, others would like all the buildings tested.

"All the buildings are surrounded, so it may be in all of the water systems and we don't even know," resident Simone Neal said. "That's my fear and concern."

An average of 200 to 400 Legionnaire's disease cases are reported in New York City every year. After the outbreak in the South Bronx last year, officials announced a plan to reduce the risk outbreaks in the city, including the implementation of tougher cooling tower regulations, the hiring and training of inspectors, expanded lab capacity and faster community notification.

Legionnaires' disease, a type of pneumonia, is not contagious and is easily treatable with antibiotics. People only get sick by breathing in water vapor containing the bacteria. Adults with flu-like symptoms, fever, cough or difficulty breathing should seek immediate medical attention.