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Legionnaires’ disease: What you need to know

New York Teacher

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Center for Disease Control and Prevention
The outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in the South Bronx this summer caught many people off guard. The disease, essentially a type of bacterial pneumonia, was named after the 1976 outbreak that struck an American Legion convention in Philadelphia, in which more than 100 people were stricken and 29 died.

But the disease has never really disappeared. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that each year between 8,000 and 18,000 people are hospitalized with Legionnaires’ disease in the United States.

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Health in schools
The South Bronx outbreak was first reported on July 10. In all, 127 New Yorkers contracted the disease, and 12, including a teacher, died. According to the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, all 12 were adults with underlying medical conditions. City health officials declared the South Bronx outbreak officially over on Aug. 20 and announced that the rooftop cooling tower at the Opera House Hotel in the Bronx was pinpointed as the source of the outbreak.

Symptoms of Legionnaires’ disease resemble those of other kinds of pneumonia: fever, muscle ache, chills and cough. Some people might experience headaches, fatigue, loss of appetite, confusion or diarrhea.

Legionnaires’ disease is treated with antibiotics. Most people recover. The city health department fact sheet states that in rare cases people may die from complications of the disease.

Legionnaires’ disease doesn’t spread from person to person. You can only be stricken if you breathe in water vapor containing the bacteria, such as by inhaling contaminated mist from faucets, showers, whirlpools or, as in the latest outbreak, cooling towers.

Those most at risk are middle aged or older, smoke cigarettes or have chronic lung disease, such as emphysema, and a weakened immune system.

The city identified 20 buildings, including one school site, which tested positive for the Legionella bacteria in their cooling towers, which are used variously for air conditioning, ventilation and heating systems. All 20 buildings were thoroughly disinfected.

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