TRENTON, NJ — An investigation of a cluster of Legionnaires’ disease cases in Union County is underway by the New Jersey Department of Health. The NJDOH is aware of 14 confirmed cases, including one death, among individuals who live in or spend time in the county.
The cases were reported to NJDOH between February 3 and February 26. The department is working with local health departments in Union County, and has alerted healthcare providers in the area. The individual who died was a male resident of Union County in his late 60s.
It can take up to two weeks for symptoms to develop. The NJDOH recommends those who develop symptoms within two weeks of being in Union County to seek medical attention. Legionnaires’ disease, a type of pneumonia (lung infection) caused by bacteria called Legionella, is treatable with antibiotics.
“This is a continuing investigation. The risk to anyone who lives in Union County is very small,” said New Jersey Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli. “Out of an abundance of caution, the Department recommends that individuals who live in Union County who become ill with pneumonia-like/respiratory symptoms, such as fever, chills, cough, shortness of breath, muscle aches, and headache visit their healthcare provider.”
The risk of Legionnaires’ disease among residents or recent visitors to Union County is low. Most healthy people exposed to Legionella do not develop Legionnaires’ disease. People over the age of 50, especially those who smoke cigarettes, or those with certain medical conditions, including weakened immune systems, chronic lung disease or other chronic health conditions, are at increased risk for Legionnaires’ disease.
People can get Legionnaires’ disease by breathing in aerosolized (small droplets) water containing Legionella bacteria. Aerosolized water can come from cooling towers (air-conditioning units for large buildings), hot tubs, cooling misters, decorative fountains, and plumbing systems. Less commonly, people can get sick by aspiration of tap water containing Legionella. This happens when water accidently goes into the lungs while drinking (“goes down the wrong pipe”). People at increased risk of aspiration include those with swallowing difficulties.
For more information, visit www.nj.gov/health/cd/topics/legion.shtml.