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Wet Spring And Hot Summer Make Conditions Ripe For Serious Illness

NEW YORK(CBSNewYork) -- The summer heat has sparked concerns that go beyond the soaring temperatures, something sickening could be lurking inside of certain air conditioners.

Hot temperatures combined with the wet spring have created optimal conditions for the bacteria that has been linked to Legionairres' Disease. As air conditioners crank away in the heat there is a chance that contaminated water could find its way into some cooling systems and cause an uptick in Legionnaires' cases, CBS 2's Lou Young reported Monday.

The respiratory illness first gained national attention in 1976 when an airborne bacteria spread through the ventilation system of a hotel in Philadelphia that was hosting the American Legion. In all, 25 people died.

The uptick in New York has been more benign.

There were 67 cases in the city in June, up from a previous monthly high of 43 in previous years. The cases appear to be unrelated, but there has been a similar trend in other cities around the country.

"The bacteria likes warm water. It thrives in temperatures in a particular range between 70 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit," explained Westchester Medical Center's Dr. Marisa Montecalvo.

The legionella bacteria occurs in nature, but treating water with chemicals can kill it. The concern that experts have is that in a heat wave people may be less diligent about maintaining their cooling systems. Health officials said that a cluster of cases could lead to a common source.

Legionnaires' presents itself like the flu and can evolve into pneumonia, but can be treated with antibiotics. Patients presenting these symptoms will be tested for legionella. Experts are watching to see if the trend accelerates or fades.

The disease can only be contracted by inhaling a contaminated water droplet and can not be spread from person to person.

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