Rumbling with Legionnaire's Disease in the Bronx

The attention rightly given the Bronx Legionnaire's Disease outbreak is interesting to me as a Pittsburgher where Legionella pneumophilia is in the water, quite literally. Almost monthly a Pittsburgh news outlet reports of Legionella being found in a water source, including those fountains at shopping malls and parks. We recently experienced a deadly Legionnaire's Disease outbreak that evolved into a full-fledged scandal at the Pittsburgh VA hospital that even President Obama took note of.

The important points to keep in mind about Legionnaire's Disease are:

  • It is nothing new. Legionnaire's Disease was first described in 1976 and retrospectively tied to earlier outbreaks. 
  • Legionella bacteria are a natural inhabitant of water--even rain puddles--where they live within amoeba.
  • Legionnaire's Disease is quite common, comprising up to 5% of ordinary community-acquired pneumonias. It tends to infect older individuals with other medical conditions and is not communicable between people.
  • Hugh Hefner had to think about it!

The Bronx outbreak underscores the need to think about water sources for buildings and whether they have been adequately maintained and disinfected at regular intervals, if not this is what occurs. The trajectory of the current NYC outbreak--there is a separate cluster at West Chester University in Pennsylvania--will likely end as cases are diagnosed and the common source water is treated. 

Infectious diseases are legion and Legionnaire's Disease is just another member of the pack that is easily tamed.