NEW YORK (AP) — The death toll from an outbreak of Legionnaires' disease has risen from four to seven people, city health officials announced Monday at a public town hall meeting of concerned residents.
"We are taking this very seriously," Dr. Mary Bassett, the city's health commissioner, told the audience at the Bronx Museum of the Arts, where people waited in line to get in.
More than 80 people have been diagnosed with the disease, which is caused when water contaminated with a certain bacteria is inhaled into the lungs. Of those sickened, 64 have been hospitalized, with 28 of them treated and discharged.
The seven people who died were all older and had other health problems, officials said.
Dr. Jay Varma, deputy commissioner for disease control for the city Department of Health, emphasized that the disease was not passed on from person to person and that most people weren't at risk.
"This is still a pretty rare disease," he said.
There have been 2,400 cases nationwide this year. The legionella bacteria were discovered last week at a Bronx hotel and in equipment at a hospital.
Officials have traced the likely cause of the outbreak to cooling towers, which can release mist. They said 17 towers in the area have been tested, with five testing positive for legionella bacteria. They said at the meeting Monday that all five of the towers have been decontaminated.
In a statement, Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio said new legislation requiring inspections, sanctions and other regulations for property owners whose buildings test positive for the disease would be presented this week to curb future outbreaks.
"Legionnaires' disease outbreaks have become far too common over the past 10 years, and the city will respond not by only addressing an outbreak as it occurs but with a new plan to help prevent these outbreaks from happening in the first place," he said.
The disease is easily diagnosed and treated with antibiotics. It poses the most risk to people who have underlying medical conditions, health officials said.
Ella Clark, 67, said she was glad she had attended the meeting but still wanted to know more about where the problem originated and what steps were being taken to address it.
"Five out of 17 is a little too much," the Bronx resident said, referring to the contaminated towers.
Officials said it would take more time and testing to figure out where the disease came from.
Kevin Woodhouse, 60, said he thought the city was doing everything it could.
"The bottom line seemed to be that everybody involved is giving it the full court press," he said.