Legionnaires' cases rise to 16 in Washington Heights cluster

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Sandra Bookman has more on the rise in Legionnaires' cases.

The number of cases of Legionnaires' Disease in a Washington Heights cluster has risen to 16, health officials say.

Seven people remain hospitalized following the outbreak in Lower Washington Heights and Hamilton Heights. All suspect cooling towers have been cleaned, or are in the process of being cleaned.

Anyone in the area with flu-like symptoms should see a doctor immediately.

RELATED: FACTS: What is Legionnaires' disease?

Legionnaires' disease is a form of bacterial pneumonia. The elderly are at the highest risk. The disease is potentially fatal but can be effectively treated with an early diagnosis.

People contract Legionnaires' disease by breathing in water vapor that contains bacteria. Health officials are testing water from all cooling tower systems in the area of the cluster.

Adults with flu-like symptoms, cough, fever or difficulty breathing should contact a physician immediately.

"While most people exposed to Legionella don't get sick, individuals ages 50 and above, especially those who smoke and have chronic lung conditions, are at a higher risk," Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett said. "This disease is very treatable with antibiotics. I encourage anyone with symptoms of Legionnaires' disease to seek care early."

Legionnaires' disease is a type of pneumonia that is caused by the bacteria Legionella, which grows in warm water. Symptoms resemble other types of pneumonia and can include fever, chills, muscle aches, and cough. Most cases of Legionnaires' disease can be traced to plumbing systems where conditions are favorable for Legionella growth, such as cooling towers, whirlpool spas, hot tubs, humidifiers, hot water tanks, and evaporative condensers of large air-conditioning systems.

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