Officials in New York's Niagara County reported that the total number of confirmed Legionnaires’ disease cases has increased to 37 from last year's 12 cases.

The county attributes this three-fold increase of Legionnaires’ disease cases to the intensified effort to test for Legionella bacteria.

But far from causing alarm, county officials believe that the increase in confirmed cases, while unusually large, is a positive sign.


Redoubled efforts

In August 2015, a large outbreak of the disease occurred in the Bronx which resulted in 120 people falling ill and 12 people dying. 

After investigations by the responsible authorities, it was discovered that the Legionella bacteria which cause the disease can be traced back to a Bronx hotel's cooling tower.

State authorities then ordered the testing of all cooling towers in the area every 90 days. At the same time, the authorities ordered physicians to conduct more tests for the disease.

 

Rippling effects

Apart from the increased number of tests conducted for Legionella bacteria, doctors have also become more aware of the disease and now conduct confirmatory testing. 

In the past, authorities believe that doctors may have simply treated patients with antibiotics without reporting these incidents.

But despite the increase in the number of confirmed cases of Legionnaires’ disease in Niagara County, there has been no notable increase in the state of New York. For 2016, the total number of confirmed cases has been pegged to 425, down from the 433 confirmed cases in 2015.

 

More about Legionella bacteria

Earlier in September, a cooling tower in a local hospital failed a test conducted during that month after a passing a similar test conducted in June. Authorities report that only one other incidence of elevated bacteria levels has been reported. However, the location of the cooling tower has not been divulged to the public as there has been no reported cases in the lightly populated area.

Legionnaires’ disease is caused by Legionella bacteria that live in moist conditions. The disease is contracted when a patient breathes contaminated water droplets. However, a healthy person would not get sick from the inhalation of these contaminated water droplets. Someone with a compromised immune system or has respiratory problems, on the other hand, can succumb to the disease.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the bacteria can travel up to about 400 metres after being expelled from a cooling tower. However, it is important to note that there are different strains of the bacteria and some do not necessarily make a person sick.

Typically, Legionnaires’ disease cases increase during the summer and early fall due to the increased usage of cooling towers.