What to Know
- Five people have died in an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease, a bacteria-triggered form of pneumonia, in New Jersey, authorities say
- Health officials say the outbreak appears centered in Union County, though didn't elaborate further; a total of 22 cases have been reported
- Legionnaires’ disease is a type of pneumonia that is caused by Legionella bacteria, which tends to grow in warm water
Five people have died in an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease, a bacteria-triggered form of pneumonia, that is connected to a single New Jersey county, health officials said Friday.
As of Thursday, the New Jersey Department of Health said it had confirmed 22 total cases of Legionnaires' in people who live in Union County or have visited it. The people got sick between March 8 and May 13; five of the 22 died.
The state says its health officials are working with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to investigate the disease cluster. Health officials wouldn't name a city or city in Union County where the cases have been most prevalent as they work to identify the source of the outbreak.
The state sees about 250 to 350 cases of Legionnaires' disease a year.
Legionnaires' disease is contracted by breathing in water droplets contaminated with the Legionella bacterium; those droplets can come from cooling towers, decorative fountains, air conditions and plumbing systems. While Legionella bacteria can be found in many different kinds of water systems, you can't get sick from drinking water, nor can you transmit the disease to another person. Home air conditioning units use a different type of water and are not at risk for Legionella growth, health officials say.
It can take up to two weeks for symptoms to develop. Symptoms include fever, chills, muscle aches, cough and even diarrhea. The most vulnerable are children, the elderly and those with weakened immune systems. Most cases can be treated with antibiotics. If you develop those symptoms soon after visiting Union County, health officials advise you seek medical attention immediately.
New Jersey health officials say they're conducting epidemiologic and environmental investigations to identify possible sources, as well as recommending some strategies to prevent further transmission.
"This is a continuing investigation. The risk to any resident of, or recent visitor to Union County is very small," New Jersey Health Commissioner Dr. Shereef Elnahal said in a 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."