Police officers at a precinct in New York City have been told to refrain from using the showers at their station for now, after an officer contracted Legionnaire’s disease – a form of pneumonia caused by bacteria that can become fatal.
Authorities are investigating the incident after preliminary test results showed traces of Legionella pneumophila, the bacteria that causes Legionnaire’s, at the East Harlem police precinct. The station’s systems and water supplies were tested after an unnamed officer was admitted to a hospital, The Washington Post reports.
Legionnaire’s disease can be treated with antibiotics, but it can become life-threatening if left alone. The bacteria that causes the disease thrives and multiplies in water systems, indoor plumbing, cooling towers, hot tubs, mist sprayers and air conditioners.
Most outbreaks have happened in buildings where large, complex water systems allow the bacteria to spread easily, the Mayo Clinic says.
The New York City Department of Health said in a statement,
Health officials are on site today to sample water in indoor plumbing, and to provide additional assistance and guidance.
It added, “Legionnaires’ disease is not contagious, officers can still work in the building but should avoid taking showers at the site until the investigation is complete. There is no public health risk to the larger community.”
The hot water supply at the police station involved has been shut off for now. Officials investigating the situation have ruled out the ventilation, air conditioning and heating systems as the source of the bacteria, because they had been shut down due to renovations since October. A new tower built last month has not been activated, so it was ruled out, as well.
People get Legionnaire’s by breathing in small droplets of water that contain the bacteria. Symptoms include headaches, chills, fever, muscle pain, cough, shortness of breath, nausea, chest pain, vomiting and diarrhea. The most at-risk of contracting the disease are adults older than 50 years, smokers, patients with weakened immune systems or other pre-existing conditions, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states.