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De Blasio: 86 Confirmed Cases Of Legionnaires' Disease In The Bronx

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) -- Five more cases of Legionnaires' disease have been confirmed in the Bronx, bringing the total number of reported diagnoses to 86, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Tuesday.

The mayor presented the updated figures at a news conference at Lincoln Hospital. In addition to those sickened in the outbreak, officials said seven people have died.

"The peak of this outbreak was on July 30, and we're seeing reduction over the last few days," de Blasio said.

One of those hit with the disease is a 40-year-old Ramel Hagins, whose family says lapsed into a coma after contracting the pneumonia-like ailment, CBS2's Lou Young reported. The New York City Transit worker has since been removed from the critical list.

"He started getting confused and was weak walking," said his mother, Vivian Edwards.

Worried Bronx Residents Voice Concerns Over Legionnaires' Outbreak At Town Hall

Legionnaires' disease is caused when water tainted with a certain bacteria is inhaled into the lungs. There have been 2,400 cases nationwide this year.

Symptoms of Legionnaires' disease include headache, fatigue, loss of appetite, confusion and diarrhea. Symptoms appear two to 10 days after exposure to Legionella bacteria.

All of those who died were older adults with underlying medical problems, the Health Department said.

City health officials said of the 22 buildings tested in the outbreak area, cooling towers at five buildings tested positive for Legionella: Lincoln Medical and Mental Health Center, the Concourse Plaza Mall, the Opera House Hotel, a Verizon office building and the Streamline Plastic Co.

De Blasio: 86 Confirmed Cases Of Legionnaires' Disease In The Bronx

The five cooling towers have been identified as the source of what Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Basset described as a contaminated mist, 1010 WINS' Juliet Papa reported.

"Inside the building is safe," Bassett said. "Our understanding is that it's a community event emanating from the rooftops."

"This type of system, when it transfers the heat, the water becomes aerosolized, and that's when it moves away from the building and moves in the air for people to breathe," city buildings inspector Rich Chandler said.

De Blasio: 86 Confirmed Cases Of Legionnaires' Disease In The Bronx

Even though those five identified sources for the disease have been cleaned, the long incubation period means other already infected victims could begin developing symptoms.

"It is much smarter to not dismiss the symptoms, even if you think it might be something else," de Blasio said. "Given what we've seen in this community, it makes sense to get treatment right away."

De Blasio announced Tuesday the administration will propose legislation to tighten inspection standards for cooling and condensing air condition machinery, WCBS 880's Rich Lamb reported.

"If Legionella is detected in any of these units, immediate action will be required," the mayor said.

De Blasio said the measure will also provide clear penalties against building owners if they fail to act.

"I think if we'd seen an occasional or small outbreak, we would've been able to say this is something that happens very rarely," de Blasio said. "But now I think it's clear this is something we need to face squarely."

It is such a new problem the city doesn't even have a number of how many of the cooling systems using recycled water exist, although it's presumed they are all over town.

Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., who proposed the new legislation, said he found the mayor's support encouraging.

"It is the responsibility of government to protect the health and well-being of the public, and this common sense proposal will help do just that," he said in a statement. "An appropriate inspection mechanism could have saved lives."

Officials stressed that drinking water, fountains, shower heads and pools are safe and said the disease is both treatable and preventable.

(TM and © Copyright 2015 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2015 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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