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NYC Officials: Third Person With Legionnaires' Disease In South Bronx Has Died

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Numbers have risen in the local outbreak of Legionnaires' disease, with a third person now dead and nearly a dozen more cases confirmed.

Officials said Friday the latest victim had additional underlying medical problems. City Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett said the other two people who died were in their 50s and suffered from a host of other health issues as well.

The city also increased the number of cases from 46 to 57; 42 of which have been hospitalized.

Meanwhile, as CBS2's Matt Kozar reported, health officials have found the bacteria that caused the disease inside a Bronx hotel. The latest location to test positive was the Opera House Hotel, at 436 E. 149th St. in the South Bronx.

"Obviously we heard the reports from all the buildings in the area having the issue, so we wanted to make sure that we got the results from (the city), and then proceed to take action if we needed to," general manager Julio Vargas told 1010 WINS' Al Jones.
Vargas said health inspectors found the bacteria in the cooling tower.

"No one has been sick," Vargas said. "No reports of any issues."

The hotel used chemicals to kill the bacteria, and Vargas said it is safe. But hotel guest Michele Suarez was concerned.

"We don't know if we should stay here, or go to another hotel, or what we should do," she said.

On Thursday, health officials said cooling towers at Lincoln Medical and Mental Health Center, and the Concourse Plaza Mall, also tested positive for the disease.

Deputy Health Commissioner Jay Varma said he suspects more cases will be reported.

"Unfortunately the number of cases is likely to go up over the next couple of days," he told WCBS 880's Peter Haskell.

NYC Officials: Third Person With Legionnaires' Disease In South Bronx Has Died

Legionnaires' disease can usually be traced to places favorable to Legionella growth such as cooling towers, hot water tanks, whirlpool spas, hot tubs, humidifiers and condensers in large air conditioning systems. It is spread through contaminated mist and is not contagious.

The Health Department so far has tested 17 cooling towers in the area. Results are still pending for six of those, officials said.

"My biggest concern is that we don't find the source of this outbreak in this concentrated area," said City Councilmember Vanessa Gibson (D-16th).

Gibson, who represents parts of the Bronx, said her phone has been ringing off the hook.

NYC Officials: Third Person With Legionnaires' Disease In South Bronx Has Died

"It is not a contagious disease, so we are making sure that we educate New Yorkers on how it's preventable; how it's treatable," she said.

Erika Florence has a 4-year-old, and was worried about taking her to Lincoln Hospital if she gets sick.

"I would never want my child to come up with something where it can be close to pneumonia, or she will have to be seriously hospitalized just from actually going to the hospital," Florence said.

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

Most of the cases have been reported in Highbridge, Morrisania, Hunts Point and Mott Haven.

Irwin Redlener, who heads the National Disaster Preparedness Center at Columbia, said only a small segment of the population is vulnerable, Haskell reported.

"People with chronic illness, older people, people whose immune system is in some way compromised," he said.

Bassett urged anyone experiencing symptoms to visit a doctor. The condition is easily treatable with antibiotics, she added.

The Mayor's office, Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, and local leaders are holding a town hall meeting Monday night at the Museum of the Arts to discuss the spread of Legionnaires' disease in the Bronx.

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