UNION COUNTY, NJ — Authorities have confirmed 14 cases of Legionnaires’ disease in Union County, including one that killed a man in his 60s, the state Health Department said Tuesday.
The state learned of the cases between Feb. 3 and Feb. 26 and is working with local health departments to investigate the cluster, health officials said in a statement. The release did not disclose where within Union County the death happened or where the cases are located.
It can take up to two weeks for symptoms of Legionnaires’ to develop, the health officials said.
The state Health Department recommends that people who develop symptoms within two weeks of being in Union County seek medical attention. Legionnaires’ disease, a type of pneumonia (lung infection) caused by bacteria called Legionella, that is treatable with antibiotics.
“This is a continuing investigation. The risk to anyone who lives in Union County is very small,” said state 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, health officials said. Most healthy people exposed to Legionella do not develop Legionnaires’ disease, the officials said. People over 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, officials said.
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.
In 2019, the at least five people in Union County — all of them older adults — died from Legionnaires’ disease.
Although known long before then, the bacteria Legionella got its name in 1976 when people who went to a Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, convention of the American Legion suffered an outbreak of the lung infection while at the Bellevue Stratford Hotel.
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