NYC and the Legionnaires’ Outbreak

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s call for a more aggressive approach in combating the city’s Legionnaires’ outbreak generated wide media coverage and was reported by several network newscasts.

On the CBS Evening News, Scott Pelley reported, “The death toll from Legionnaires’ in New York City stands at seven” and an additional 86 people have been diagnosed with the disease. CBS Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Jon Lapook explained that “Legionnaires’ is most commonly caused by inhalation of mist or vapor containing the bacteria,” but less “than five percent of people exposed to it will develop the disease” and it is “not spread from person to person.”

Meanwhile, on NBC Nightly News, NBC’s Anne Thompson reported that the “box-like” cooling towers on various “New York City rooftops are the source of the deadly outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease.” Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz stated, “We’re not at the level of panic but anxiety is really high.” Thompson added that “New York Mayor Bill De Blasio called for citywide inspections of cooling towers” yesterday, while Special Pathogens Laboratory Director Dr. Janet Stout said the Mayor’s proposal “will go a long way to preventing” the disease. Dr. Richard Besser reported on ABC World News (8/4, story 6, 2:25, Muir), “The good news is your window or home air conditioning unit can’t cause this disease.”

According to a front page story in the New York Times, “Mayor Bill de Blasio and other officials are trying to marshal a more aggressive approach to the disease.” Dr. Jay Varma, deputy commissioner for disease control for the city health department, “said health officials are confident” that cooling towers are the likely cause of the outbreak, but it is unclear whether “one or more of the towers” is responsible. According to the Times, “the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported about 2,400 cases of Legionnaires’ disease” this year.

The Washington Post reports that New York residents have been on “high alert since July 10 when the outbreak was first identified” and have since been “flooding doctors offices and hospitals with symptoms of fever, cough, chills, muscle aches and other signs of the disease.” The Post adds that the recent outbreak “is not quite a crisis” yet.

The Wall Street Journal reports that at a news conference in the South Bronx, Mayor de Blasio, along with the City Council, called for the introduction of legislation that would require building owners with cooling towers to register them and inspect them regularly or face penalties. The Journal adds that New York City’s infectious disease team is collaborating with CDC scientists.

Another article in the Wall Street Journal (8/5, Ramey, Subscription Publication) reports that Dr. Preeta Kutty, a medical epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said that the city’s outbreak is one of the largest seen in the US in the past decade, noting that it is affecting a community rather than just one building. Meanwhile, city health officials have said that all those who have died from the disease had underlying medical conditions, such as HIV.

Meanwhile, the New York Daily News (8/5, Pearson) reports that “some experts wonder why officials didn’t get on-the-ground help from” the CDC “during this public health crisis.” City Health Commissioner Mary Bassett “confirmed the city did not request a team from the CDC,” but had “‘been in consultation with them up to the level of the director,’ she said.”


Ben Landa