What you need to know about the Legionnaires' Disease outbreak in NYC

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This week, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is expected to introduce a bill on Legionnaires' Disease, an outbreak of which has already killed seven people and infected at least 81 in the city.


According to de Blasio, "Legionnaires' disease has been a persistent public health threat for years, and has intensified in both New York City and across the nation over the past decade."


You might be wondering: What exactly is Legionnaires' disease? And how do I not get it? Here's a quick guide:

What is it?

Legionnaires' is effectively a form of bacterial pneumonia. It's most often caused by the bacteria Legionella, which lives in water. Legionnaires' can be deadly, and it can cause lingering detrimental heath effects in survivors, like chronic fatigue and others.

The disease was first recognized in 1976, after several members of the American Legion fell ill and died after attending a conference in Philadelphia.

Where is it?

Legionella survives in warm water, and can grow in fountains, cooling towers and hot water tanks, plumbing systems, and hot tubs. It doesn't appear to live in small air conditioners, like the ones you would use at home or in your car.


The current New York City outbreak has been traced back to a number of cooling towers in the South Bronx, as well as the water in some buildings. The city says drinking water and public pools are unaffected.

How can I get it?

People contract Legionnaires' by drinking infected water, or breathing it in as mist. It is not a contagious disease, and most people who are exposed to it don't get ill.


How do I know if I have it?

Symptoms are comparable to those of flu or pneumonia, so it may be hard to tell if what's bothering you is Legionnaires'. But watch out for high fever, muscle and headaches, coughing, and shortness of breath. The symptoms exhibit from two days after exposure and up to two weeks from it.


How is it treated?

Antibiotics should do the trick for most healthy individuals. Those with preexisting health conditions are at greater risk — the seven people who died of Legionnaires' reportedly had other medical problems, as well.


Where can I find out more?

The Bronx Legionnaires' Disease Fact Sheet is a good place to check for updates on the NYC outbreak.


Danielle Wiener-Bronner is a news reporter.

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