NYS Department of Health: Legionnaire's traced back to Elmira Heat Treating cooling tower
ALBANY, N.Y. (WENY) – The New York State Department of Health has announced new findings in its ongoing investigation into a cluster of Legionnaire's cases in Chemung County.
According to State DoH officials, the cases are all in the City of Elmira.
Testing – which was done in collaboration with the Chemung County Department of Health, was completed at New York State's Wadsworth Center. Officials say that testing determined a molecular match between specimens from four patients who live within the same Elmira neighborhood and who had recently been diagnosed with Legionnaire's Disease.
Environmental samples were collected by the State and County health departments in those patients' homes and from cooling towers nearby.
As WENY News reported, Chemung County health officials initially revealed a total of 13 cases of legionella in the county. Nine were reportedly part of the same cluster, three were separate cases and a fourth separate case was confirmed at the Chemung County Nursing Facility. Officials say all ill patients are recovering.
After testing, officials say a sample collected from one of three cooling towers at Elmira Heat Treating proved to match the Legionella bacteria from the four cases.
On November 1, county and state officials both reportedly visited Elmira Heat Treating to inspect all three cooling towers and gather operation information from the company's owners. Officials say the inspection revealed that one cooling tower did have a history of bacterial growth, but officials say testing earlier in 2019 indicated it was within “State acceptable levels” for Legionella.
Officials say additional precautionary sampling was conducted on all three towers. Additionally, they say Elmira Heat Treating has been fully cooperative with NYS DOH and Chemung County and has agreed to “immediately implement all actions” recommended, including shutting down the cooling tower and completing the decontamination process.
After the tower is drained, scrubbed, and flushed, the tower will then reportedly be re-filled and retested according to regulations.
State officials want to remind the community that Legionnaire's Disease is not spread from person to person. The bacteria is found naturally in the environment, usually in water. They grow best in warm water, like the kind found in hot tubs, cooling towers, hot water tanks, large plumbing systems, and decorative fountains. People get infected when they breathe in a mist containing the bacteria. Mist that exits a cooling tower may be transported by prevailing winds to other locations that are some distance from the tower. Legionnaires' disease symptoms are similar to other types of pneumonia and can include cough, shortness of breath, fever, muscle aches and headaches. Any individual that develops symptoms that could be associated with Legionnaires' disease should share this information with their health care provider.
Most healthy people exposed to Legionella do not get sick. People at increased risk of getting sick are:
People 50 years or older
Current or former smokers
People with a chronic lung disease (like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or emphysema)
People with weak immune systems or who take drugs that weaken the immune system (like after a transplant operation or chemotherapy)
People with cancer
People with underlying illnesses such as diabetes, kidney failure, or liver failure