Legionnaires' disease cluster in NJ: 22 cases, 5 fatal, in Union County

TRENTON, New Jersey (WABC) -- The New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH) is investigating a cluster of Legionnaires' disease cases in Union County, including five that turned fatal.

As of Friday, the department said, it has identified 22 cases of the disease in people who live in or have visited Union County. All became ill between March 8 through May 13, 2019.

Five deaths have been reported among older adults who also had other significant medical conditions.

The locations of the confirmed cases were not listed in the department's report.

RELATED: What you need to know about Legionnaires' disease

One suspected case of Legionnaires' has apparently been identified in Elizabeth.

A spokesperson for the City of Elizabeth released the following statement Friday afternoon:

"There is one suspected case in Elizabeth and the gender or location was not identified. The origin is not projected to be in Elizabeth.

"The City of Elizabeth is extremely distressed that this investigation started in the beginning of March, yet they issue a press release on the Friday before a holiday weekend. The State said that anyone with further questions should reach out to their Communications Department."

It was not immediately clear if the Elizabeth case is one of the 22 described in the NJDOH report.

The New Jersey Department of Health said it is working with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local health departments in Union County to investigate this cluster.

"This is a continuing investigation. The risk to any resident of, or recent visitor to Union County is very small," said New Jersey Health Commissioner Dr. Shereef Elnahal in a written statement. "Out of an abundance of caution, the Department recommends that individuals who live in Union County who become ill with pneumonia-like/respiratory symptoms, such as fever, chills, cough, shortness of breath, muscle aches, and headache visit their healthcare provider."

"Legionnaires' disease is not spread person to person and you cannot get it by drinking water," Elnahal added.

Legionnaires' disease is a type of pneumonia (lung infection) caused by bacteria called Legionella.

People can get Legionnaires' disease by breathing in aerosolized (small droplets) water containing Legionella bacteria. Aerosolized water can come from cooling towers (air-conditioning units for large buildings), cooling misters, decorative fountains, and plumbing systems.

Home A/C units do not use water to cool, so these home units do not aerosolize water and are not a risk for Legionella growth.

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