Legionella cases have been reported sporadically throughout the year, and the Chemung County Health Department and New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) continue to investigate a cluster of Legionellosis cases in Chemung County, accoding to a press release issued by the Health Department Aug. 26 regarding the unusually high number of cases in the area.
The Health Department has received the testing results for both patient samples and environmental samples. These tests show there is no link between the ill patients and the environmental samples. The Health Department is awaiting results of several environmental samples.
“These [cases] all seemed to have a couple similar pieces, so the Department of Health said, ‘hey, why don’t you start to look at these?’ Then a bunch more rolled in, and a bunch more rolled in,” said Peter Buzzetti, public health director for Chemung County.
There have been 13 cases total, Buzzetti said, but through testing the NYDOH determined that only nine are part of the cluster being investigated by the Department of Health.
In addition, the Health Department and NYSDOH are investigating a case of Legionellosis at the Chemung County Nursing Facility.
There is no reason to believe this new case is related to the larger cluster of cases, according to the Health Department, which reports that all ill patients are recovering.
The Department of Health compared the DNA of the Legionella found in the affected patients and compared it to the DNA of the environmental samples collected in order to rule out certain areas as the source of the disease.
“We’ve done some environmental sampling that ruled it out, it didn’t rule in, and we have a third wave of environmental sampling today,” Buzzetti said Sept. 30.
Legionnaires’ disease (Legionellosis) is a bacterial disease that can cause pneumonia. Between 200 and 800 cases are reported each year in New York State, including New York City, according to the NYSDOH. Most cases occur as single isolated events. Outbreaks are relatively rare, the NYSDOH website states.
Legionella can cause illness when it forms in water cooling towers, shower heads and faucets—devices that can cause water can be aerosolized and breathed through the air into the lungs.
“Even if you had a cup full of Legionella and drank it, you can’t get it,” Buzzetti said. “You have to breathe it in.”
The Heath Department is continuing to work with the patients and NYSDOH on this investigation.
The Health Department said it is important for the public to know the following about Legionellosis: Legionellosis is caused by infection with Legionella bacteria. Multiple possible sources are being investigated such as cooling towers, water tanks, large plumbing systems and fountains. Most of the time, results are negative for Legionella bacteria.
Legionella is typically transmitted by breathing in tiny water droplets present in the air contaminated with the bacteria, not by drinking the water nor by being in contact with someone who is ill with Legionella. Public water systems are not commonly found to be sources of Legionella outbreaks.
Most healthy individuals do not become infected with Legionella bacteria when exposed. People at higher risk of getting sick are those with a history of chronic disease, smoking, chronic lung disease, cancer or weakened immune systems.
There is no need for the public to modify their activities in light of this increase in cases; however, persons with respiratory illness should contact their primary care physician or seek health care. If you have any question regarding Legionella, please call the Health Department at (607) 737-2028.