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Monkeypox and Legionnaires’ disease: New York City gets double whammy of new health scares

Legionnaires' disease outbreak
City health officials are investigating a cluster of Legionnaires’ disease cases in the Bronx.
NYC Health Department

With COVID-19 cases surging again, monkeypox and Legionnaires’ disease have also emerged in recent days as new health scares facing New York City.

New York City’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene confirmed on Friday evening that it is awaiting results from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirming a possible monkeypox case from a patient who tested positive for Orthopoxvirus. Monkeypox is part of the Orthopoxvirus family of contagions.

This patient, according to the Health Department, is currently in isolation, and the agency is now conducting contact tracing as an extra precaution. One other New York City patient suspected of contracting monkeypox has been ruled out.

Over the past week, Massachusetts and several European countries detected cases of monkeypox — a rare illness that can be spread through close contact with an infected person or animal. 

Individuals who experience flu-like symptoms with swelling of their lymph nodes and develop rashes on their faces and body should contact their physician immediately.

Meanwhile, the Health Department is also dealing with a Legionnaires’ disease cluster outbreak in Bronx.

At least four people in Highbridge (ZIP codes 10452 and 10456) have tested positive for the bacterial infection since May 9, with tests of additional patients still pending.

Legionnaires’ disease is a form of pneumonia caused by the Legionella bacteria which grows in warm water environs such as cooling towers, hot tubs, humidifiers, hot water tanks and large air-conditioning systems. The Health Department has been collecting samples from cooling tower systems in and around the area of the Highbridge cluster.

People can contract the bacteria that causes Legionnaires’ disease by breathing in water vapor in which Legionella is present. Symptoms of the illness are flu-like in nature, including fever, chills, muscle aches and cough — and it can be fatal for individuals at high risk of illness, including people 50 years of age and older, cigarette smokers and those with chronic respiratory issues.

“Any New Yorkers with flu-like symptoms should contact a health care provider as soon as possible,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Ashwin Vasan. “Legionnaires’ disease can be effectively treated if diagnosed early, but New Yorkers at higher risk, like adults aged 50 and older, those who smoke or have chronic lung conditions should be especially mindful of their symptoms and seek care as soon as symptoms begin.”

Anyone who lives or works in the Highbridge area who experiences the symptoms of Legionnaires’ disease should seek immediate medical attention.

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