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OpinionColumnistsLiza Featherstone

Legionnaires' outbreak: Bronx lives matter

Legionnaires' disease is caused by a bacteria that

Legionnaires' disease is caused by a bacteria that can cause fatal pneumonia. Photo Credit: CDC

In the Bronx this summer, at least 100 people have fallen ill with Legionnaires' disease, a rare and potentially deadly form of pneumonia. At least 10 have died.

You most likely know about this if you're a local news junkie, hypochondriac or live in the Bronx.

The outbreak may not be dominating your Facebook, Instagram or Twitter feeds, but it should be. It's the widest spread of the illness in NYC, and people are dying in the Bronx.

Legionnaires' may not be as contagious as Ebola. But do you remember the minute-by-minute coverage in local and national outlets? Do you remember all the attention to Craig Spencer, the Ebola-infected doctor who infamously went bowling in Brooklyn while he was contagious? We heard about nothing else in that time, whether in traditional or social media, or while out to dinner with friends. Some New Yorkers panicked and were outraged at Spencer. Questions of how and whether to quarantine people who had been exposed to Ebola -- or even merely traveled to African countries hit by it -- were widely debated.

How many New Yorkers died of Ebola? Zero.

How many New Yorkers other than Spencer tested positive for Ebola? Zero.

How many New Yorkers have contracted Legionnaires'? At least 100.

How many new cases this week? At least 11.

Maybe it's not getting as much attention on your Twitter and Facebook feeds because Legionnaires' is harder to spell than Ebola. Or maybe it's because the disease is only affecting people in NYC's poorest borough, where members of the media elite -- and even the far less powerful but highly verbal twitterati -- are least likely to live. Because Ebola affected few New Yorkers directly, it could remain an object of equal-opportunity paranoia.

Fortunately, NYC is acting quickly and sensibly. It's educating New Yorkers about the disease, and seeking to tighten regulations for water cooling towers, which are believed to have spread the bacteria (people get sick after inhaling water droplets from contaminated water towers). And yesterday, the city said landlords would be required to test and disinfect towers.

The lesson for the media and public is that there are humans in the Bronx, and their lives matter.

Liza Featherstone lives and writes in Clinton Hill.

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