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New York City officials said Wednesday that another person had died of Legionnaires’ disease, bringing to eight the death toll in the outbreak, which is based in the South Bronx.
The overall number of cases of people who contracted the bacterial infection also increased—to 97, according to the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Of these, 92 have been hospitalized and 48 have now been treated and discharged, the department said.
The city dates the outbreak to July 10 and to cooling towers atop large buildings. The towers emit a mist that can transmit the bacteria onto people below. The city tested 17 cooling towers and found the bacteria in five, all of which have been decontaminated, officials said.
City officials have established a Cooling Tower Task Force to track the progress of cooling-tower sampling and monitor the disinfection process. They also have set up a call center for public reporting of possible cooling-tower locations.
Long-term plans for the maintenance of the five cooling towers that tested positive are due Friday, they said.
The city has been criticized for its response to the outbreak, which has stirred anxiety in the South Bronx. Mayor Bill de Blasio said Tuesday his administration would introduce legislation to create new inspection standards for cooling towers and require building owners to register the structures with the city.
Officials have described Legionnaires’ disease as a type of pneumonia, with symptoms including fever, cough and shortness of breath. It cannot spread from person to person, and city drinking water is safe, they said.
The disease, which the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates hospitalizes 8,000 to 18,000 people a year in the U.S., is more common in the summer.
“When air conditioning is used a lot, the opportunity for cool water to turn into hot water increases, and that creates a potential setting in which this bacteria can flourish,”Mary Bassett, the city’s health commissioner, said at a news conference.
Legionnaires’ disease got its name after more than 100 attendees at a 1976 American Legion convention at a Philadelphia hotel got the disease.
Major recent outbreaks have included 182 confirmed cases in Quebec City in 2012, and 334 cases in Portugal in 2014, according to medical journals. Recent U.S. outbreaks include one at Veterans Affairs Pittsburgh Healthcare System, which resulted in 22 cases, including six deaths, and an outbreak at a U.S. military base that yielded 29 cases.
New York’s current outbreak is the largest in the city’s history, officials have said. It is among the largest outbreaks in the U.S. in recent years, said Preeta Kutty, a medical epidemiologist at the CDC.