SAN DIEGO — The recent outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in the Bronx resulted in a major policy change in New York, which may now be facilitating identification of additional clusters of illness.

Keren Landman, MD, of the Bureau of Communicable Diseases, New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, New York, noted during a recent discussion held at IDWeek 2015 that a large outbreak in the Bronx that was reported over the summer affected 133 people, 16 of whom died. The source of that outbreak was traced to a cooling tower at the Opera House Hotel, after laboratories matched the strain found in the hotel’s tower with the strain found in more than two dozen patients, she said. 

Dr Landman noted that the city tested 42 towers in the outbreak zone, obtaining a sample from each cooling tower, which was then divided and tested by two different laboratories. If the sample was positive, the sites were ordered to remediate their cooling towers. 

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Before this outbreak Dr Landman noted, cooling towers had not been regulated in the United States. On Aug. 19, shortly after the investigation into this outbreak began, the New York City Council passed legislation that requires quarterly inspections of cooling towers. 

“This was mind-bendingly fast,” Dr Landman commented during her talk. “We’re delighted with the speed with which our city took action.”

City officials meanwhile, are crediting this policy change with possibly helping to identify a more recent cluster of cases in the Morris Park, Bronx, which was first reported Sept. 21 and has subsequently led to illness in 15 individuals, one of whom has died. 

“The cooling towers have been historically the core challenge … the health commissioner’s order has mandated every cooling tower in New York City has been inspected, and cleaned, and tested – all that has happened now,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a recent radio interview on the John Gambling Show on WNYM-AM (970). “And so the good news is that, unlike in the past, we actually have a handle on where these cooling towers are, and they’ve gotten the kind of cleaning they need. But, like any other bacteria, this can grow again in some areas, so we know that we’re going to see Legionnaires’ from time to time. What we’re doing well is getting out word to people – if you have a cough, if you have flu-like symptoms, get to the doctor, and just make sure.” 


1. Landman K.Session: Symposium: Late Breaking Updates on Pathogens – Old and New: Legionella Outbreak in NYC. Presented at: IDWeek 2015. Oct. 7-11, 2015. San Diego.