Recent Legionnaires’ Outbreaks Concern Health Officials

The New York City Department of Health announced that it was investigating a community cluster of Legionnaires’ disease in Central Harlem, which as of Friday, August 20, had grown to 12 cases. On Wednesday, officials had confirmed that at least nine were hospitalized with the illness since August 9.

Meanwhile, Duke University said Thursday that about 84 adults who had been attending a basketball camp on campus were being treated for illness after likely exposure to the Legionella pneumophilia bacteria, which causes the disease.

Concerns over this severe form of pneumonia have spread to Missouri, where state health authorities are advising recent guests of the Quality Inn in Bethany that they risk possible exposure to legionella after a visitor at the hotel had fallen ill with the disease.

In July, Michigan noted an alarming spike in Legionnaires’ disease, with 107 cases reported in the first half of the month — a 569 percent increase compared with the same time in 2020.

Stay-at-home policies during the pandemic may be contributing to the rise in illness. Legionella bacteria can often flourish in building water systems, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), especially when water remains stagnant for an extended period of time. Cooling towers, whirlpool spas, hot tubs, humidifiers, hot water tanks, and evaporative condensers of large air-conditioning systems can all be ideal breeding grounds.

“As many buildings are currently reopening after extended COVID-19 closures or periods of limited use, this may create an environment for potential amplification and transmission of legionella bacteria,” wrote the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

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