Urging Calm Over Legionnaires’ Disease Cases in Flushing

City Council member Peter Koo (left) and Dr. Demetre Daskalakis, deputy commissioner for the division of disease control at the NYC Dept. of Health (Photo by Cecilia Li via Sing Tao Daily)

Twelve residents in downtown Flushing were confirmed to have contracted Legionnaires’ disease from Oct. 10 to 19, the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene announced at a press conference on October 24. The agency has been sampling the water in the cooling towers of the buildings where the patients live. Officials asked residents not to panic, and to visit the doctor should they suffer from some symptoms such as fever and muscle aches.

At the press conference, which the Health Department held together with Council member Peter Koo’s office, Demetre Daskalakis, deputy commissioner for the division of disease control, said all the patients live in Flushing. Their ages are from 30 to over 80. But most are in their 50s. It’s not certain yet how they contracted the disease.

[Editor’s note: An update from the agency on Oct. 26 brought the number of confirmed cases to 14. Twelve patients had been released from the hospital as of that date, while two were still hospitalized. The agency also announced on Oct. 26 that it would hold a meeting at Flushing Town Hall at 137-35 Northern Blvd. at 6 p.m. on Oct. 30  to provide more information to the public.]

Daskalakis said Legionella, the bacteria that causes the disease, is often found in the water in cooling towers. He said the Health Department had taken samples from all the cooling towers in the buildings where the patients live. The agency will follow a two-step procedure to investigate and remediate. Based on samples taken, landlords of buildings with water containing legionella DNA will be required to increase the use of biocides that kill the bacteria immediately or change the biocide to more effective ones. Then, growth in laboratory cultures over a two week period will determine whether there is still live bacteria in the cooling towers that can cause health problems of residents. If so, the landlords will be required to fully clean and disinfect the cooling towers.

Daskalakis said the Health Department won’t reveal the addresses of the patients. He also told residents in Flushing that they should have no problem in using, drinking the water or taking showers. But if symptoms like fever, cough, chills and muscle aches appear, they should go to the doctor. For those who contract Legionnaires’ disease, the earlier are they treated, the more quickly they can recover. He also said that the inspection of the registered cooling towers in Flushing shows they are in good condition. But the condition of the unregistered ones is not clear. And the agency will work together with the Department of Buildings to inspect the unregistered cooling towers.

Koo said a few years ago when some Flushing residents were confirmed to have contracted Legionnaires’ disease, the Health Department didn’t react until a month later. This time, the agency communicated with the community and launched an investigation promptly. The agency and his office plan to visit senior centers to provide relevant information. They’ll also provide timely updates to the public. Koo said there is no need to panic.

In August, two residents living in Latimer Gardens, a public housing complex in Flushing, were diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease. And there had been confirmed cases before in the Bland Houses, another public housing complex, as well. Daskalakis said on average 200 to 400 Legionnaires’ disease cases occur citywide annually. There are 363 cases confirmed this year so far, a little higher than the same time last year.

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