New York City

Bronx Public Housing Complex Building Tests Positive for Legionella

A building in a Bronx public housing complex has been identified as a source of a small cluster of a Legionnaires' disease outbreak after Legionella bacteria was found in the hot water distribution system there, officials say.

Four cases of Legionnaire's disease have been traced to the Melrose Houses in the South Bronx over the past six months, the health department said. One happened earlier in the year, two during the recently ended South Bronx outbreak, and a recent case in which the patient remains hospitalized.

Melrose resident Wendy Perez said the patient is her 35-year-old brother-in-law.

"He's really sick," she said. "He got all types of tubes and stuff." 

The other three patients were treated and released.

There are eight buildings housing about 2,670 residents in the complex. So far, the building at 681 Courtlandt Ave. has tested positive for Legionella, while the buildings at 304 East 156th St. and 700 Morris Ave. have tested negative. Test results are pending on the other five buildings. 

The city's public housing agency, NYCHA, is shutting off hot water to 681 Courtlandt out of an abundance of caution and installing water filters in every apartment to eliminate the bacteria, health officials said. 

Hot water service will be restored when all the filters are installed. Sam Miller, a spokesman for the health department, says it is safe to bathe, cook with and drink cold tap water. 

Residents remain skeptical.

"It's very scary. I fear for my life," said Perez. "Like, I don't know if they're saying the truth."

The Melrose Houses is in the same zone as the other Legionnaire's disease outbreak traced to the Opera House Hotel, but it's not considered the same outbreak. In this case, said Miller, "we are looking at the water system because we have two cases in one building."

In August, health officials identified a cooling tower at the Opera House Hotel as the source of the Legionnaires' spike that sickened more than 120 people in the Bronx, killing 12 of them, since July, marking the largest outbreak of the disease in New York City history.

The tower at the Opera House Hotel was disinfected Aug. 1, authorities said. 

Concerns about prevention and safety prompted the city to develop and pass new legislation to regulate cooling towers, where Legionella is likely to grow.

Under the new legislation, cooling towers across the city must be tested regularly for Legionella bacteria; any found to be contaminated must be disinfected immediately. The regulations specify penalties for violations, and the legislation makes New York City the first major city in the United States to regulate cooling towers.

Prior to the recent outbreak, no city records were kept as to which buildings had cooling towers.

Legionnaires' disease usually sets in two to 10 days after exposure to the bacteria and has symptoms similar to pneumonia, including shortness of breath, high fever, chills and chest pains. People with Legionnaires' also experience appetite loss, confusion, fatigue and muscle aches.

It cannot be spread person-to-person and those at highest risk for contracting the illness include the elderly, cigarette smokers, people with chronic lung or immune system disease and those receiving immunosuppressive drugs. Most cases can be treated successfully with antibiotics.

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