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Tompkins County reports surge in illnesses associated with water

  • / Updated:
  • Staff Report 

Tompkins County Whole Health (TCWH) has reported a surge in cases of Legionellosis, with twelve identified cases in the City and Town of Ithaca since June 2023, culminating in one death as of August 28. Legionellosis, caused by the Legionella bacteria, encompasses diseases such as Legionnaire’s Disease, Pontiac Fever, and Extrapulmonary Legionellosis. Its symptoms range from cough and shortness of breath to high fever and muscle aches. If not treated, it can progress to pneumonia. The disease poses a significant risk for those with weakened immune systems, individuals over 50, and those with chronic lung conditions.

While there’s no established link among the local cases, all affected individuals required hospitalization, primarily occurring in those over 50 or those with other chronic health conditions. The general public faces a low risk, though caution is especially advised for vulnerable groups. Rachel Buckwalter, TCWH’s Director of Community Health Services, emphasized the importance of monitoring health for symptoms and seeking immediate treatment if they arise. She also stated that they are still working on determining the exact source of the Legionella bacteria.

Legionella bacteria thrive in warm water environments like cooling towers, hot water tanks, and poorly-maintained decorative fountains. As the bacteria is not transmitted from person to person, the focus has turned to such water sources. Cooling towers, frequently associated with Legionella, are currently undergoing rigorous testing and disinfection under the supervision of the New York State Department of Health and TCWH’s Environmental Health Division.