Recent Legionella-related Incidents in New York City

Legionnaires Disease from Air Conditioning

When following the news lately, you may have noticed that Legionella is back in the local health reports. A Legionella-related infection occurred on Friday, June 9th at a New York City Police Department precinct in East Harlem. One officer became infected and required hospitalization and treatment. Subsequent testing of the potable water at the precinct was performed and precautions were taken to prevent additional transmission. These included hot water being turned off and officers being instructed not to take showers at the precinct. In addition, an outbreak occurred during the week of June 12th, 2017 on the Upper East Side. Seven people were sickened and hospitalized with a Legionella-related bacterial infection, and at least one person has died. 116 cooling units in the surrounding area have been tagged as possible sources, and laboratory culture results (which take about two weeks to process) are currently pending.

These two Legionella-related incidents are not surprising, because summer weather brings along a higher risk of Legionella transmission due to two major factors:

  1. The temperature during the summer months is optimal for Legionella bacteria growth.

Legionella bacteria can easily survive and multiply between 68 and 122 degrees Fahrenheit.  Between 90 and 105 degrees Fahrenheit, growth occurs most rapidly. Cooling towers and evaporative coolers (cooling units) are typically located in open, outdoor locations and receive direct incident sunlight.  If not properly maintained through periodic physical and chemical disinfection, these cooling units can become prime breeding grounds for Legionella growth.  Since Legionella can be transmitted through the air at distances up to two miles from the source, improper maintenance can directly impact the entire surrounding community.

  1. During the summer, cooling towers and evaporative coolers are typically used on a daily basis for both industrial process cooling and ambient air cooling.

Overall, more cooling units are in operation during the summer months than at any other time throughout the year. This creates more potential sources of Legionella transmission.

Given the information above, it is likely that additional Legionella outbreaks will occur as the summer progresses.  The New York State Department of Health has established regulations and requirements intended to ensure proper operation and monitoring of cooling units to prevent Legionella growth and associated health impacts as detailed in Walden’s Legionella blog series.  If cooling units are operated at your facility, compliance with the NYSDOH Legionella requirements is imperative to protect against health effects and avoid penalties.

Walden’s Legionella experts that can help protect the health and safety of your facility personnel and the surrounding population by implementing control measures to prevent bacterial transmission, which can lead to a potentially fatal infection. Call Walden today at (516) 624-7200 to learn more about our Legionella ­prevention services.

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