Officials React To Deadly Outbreak of Legionnaires' Disease in NYC

86 cases, including 7 deaths, have been reported so far.
8:40 | 08/04/15

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Transcript for Officials React To Deadly Outbreak of Legionnaires' Disease in NYC
Developing now in New York City dealing head on with a deadly outbreak of legionnaires' disease believed to have started in some water cooling towers. At least seven people have died after contracting the virus which is a severe form of pneumonia. The infection causing lung inflammation. When cab driver who spent a month in the hospital after contracting the virus is still not sure how we caught it but says he's thankful he sought treatment. I was about to win one more day to go to some. And if I would have waited that one more day have a thing I would have been here right now. Hi everyone I'm Caroline Costello in New York cases reported so far. Jumping to 86 today New York city's mayor build applause you know held a news conference today to discuss the outbreak. Our hearts go out to everyone is afflicted and their families and take to the families. Of those that we've lost. Here at Lincoln hospital. Several individuals with the disease are being treated now. Want to thank all of the hard working staff here at Lincoln hospital for all they're doing to support these patients and their families. Now want to remind everyone upfront about the realities of legionnaires' disease. Most importantly and thank god it is not. Contagious. Disease and other moderates cannot be passed. From person to person. And there is no risk. To our drinking water are there is no restore water supply from legionnaires' disease. Another crucial point it can be treated as treatable with antibiotics. But it's crucial that each case be identified. Early on and that treatment. Be reached quickly and achieved quickly. An obvious that's particularly true for anyone who may have preexisting conditions. Our other vulnerabilities it's crucial that any such individuals. Get treatment immediately. And we're gonna keep emphasizing. All New Yorkers has particularly folks. Who live here in a South Bronx. If you have symptoms that might be associated with legionnaires' disease please. Seek treatment immediately. Whether through your own private doctor or through. An emergency room like the one here at Lincoln. Symptoms include fever. Cough and shortness of breath again for people live in the South Bronx particularly. I have these symptoms please immediately seek treatment it is much smarter. To not dismiss the symptoms even have you think it might be something else. Given what we've seen in this community it makes sense to get treatment right away. And we are joined now by ABC's chief health and medical editor doctor Richard bass are. Doctor Chris are you headed up the legionnaires disease unit at the CDC. For seven years so tell us how worried should we be about this. Eight this is a large legionnaires'. Disease outbreak is sometimes you'll just hear few cases but here they've been. More than eighty cases in and seven deaths so it's something to Tate takes seriously and the Health Department clearly is taking this varies years. But in terms of risk to the general public. The risk is is pretty. In less sure in that area that's been affected by this unit you have no risk. And if you are in that area that's been affected you really have risk only if you have certain conditions if you're smoker or former smokers are over fifty. Get lung disease if you had. Diseases they can affect your immune systems so kidney disease diabetes. Or you're on drugs that could affect cancer. Drug or drugs can affect yours your immune system there your risk preferred generally do it generally. Hope the individual there's not at risk all 5% of people who come in contact with the bacterial actually. That's right and held more than 5% so. You know you can imagine dead they were there were thousands and thousands of people in the South Bronx who may have been exposed if it came from a cooling tower. So cooling towers are one of the sources of these outbreaks the bacteria grows up. In the in the film and in this line they can build up these cooling towers. And when that happens you can spray out the lead develop bacteria over a wide range it's been shown bingo to miles who if you imagine that they've been thousands and thousands of people exposed so far eighty people have gotten this disease and those who've died unfortunately. They had underlying medical conditions apartment greater risk. And people read and hear that you can catch it from water vapors and they think that means. Someone's breath one of the misconceptions the mayor pointed out. You cannot catch it from another person that's right this is not contagious disease doesn't spread person to person. And and it's important people realize that you also can't get it from people here cooling towers in the air conditioning. I I get from my air conditioner home you can't. The the air conditioning cooling tires that are tops of buildings they work by evaporation of water so in those. Big metal boxes that you'll see on the tops of some large buildings is actually a big Reza warm water. And it's it's pumped up and it drips down the sides and as that evaporates and it it cools the air that's pumped in the building for cooling. In the coming at the top there's missed that you can't really see because the particles are very small. And that's what gets infected here your air conditioner in your home has equivalent to there freon or something else. Very different technologies give eighty water in the in the pan of that of that air conditioner. But that water is from condensation. As as that air condition comes in contact with humid air it's very different. And that's not the risk for the legionnaires disease and you mentioned you can't get it from. Drinking water either from the faucet that's right even here in that area of water drinking water's not what's what's what's causing this and and you know many outbreaks of legionnaires' disease hackers hospitals. This outbreak has not been shown to be linked to any hospitals of someone has symptoms they should be afraid to go to the hospital to get checked let's talk about. How health officials traced the source. Of this outbreak and how difficult. Was that it's it's very challenging so if you're investigating why the you're gonna interview every single patient who's been involved looking for connections. They all go to the same place he found no connections here between these people of witty bit. So with a hit with a map them all out on the map of of of the products and and Andy the define the area of exposure that they use Google Earth. Which allow them to look at the top of every building in that area and identify where the cooling towers were then they went building by building and collected samples and tested them. And they found lead to no bacteria in five of those cooling towers they cleaned it. And their hope is that was one of those cooling towers that caused this and that the outbreak should be overseen. But they could be wrong they could be wrong. You know I you know you days they could be wrong they won't know for another five days. Because the incubation period for legionnaires' disease can be ten days or so I think it's been five decency clean the towers. So another fight basically see the case is dropping then though they can they be pretty comfortable that they that they got it. But I've seen outbreaks for decorative fountains from whirlpool spas from all kinds of different settings. Something like this where it's spread out over big area. In all likelihood it's a cooling tower and if that's the case I would expect that they got that they won't rest comfortably until they see that number of cases going down. And let's talk about symptoms went a person sees a Doctor Who legionnaires' disease is is a form of pneumonia to severe form of pneumonia pneumonia is an infection of your lives. So it's it's time those flu like symptoms that we talk whatever your current flu season so you've got cough. Fever shortness of breath. Body aches those things they could be point 22 legionnaires' disease so if you live in that area. In your developing this and you don't ignore that you want to go to your doctor you get those checked out. And there's a test it's as simple test it's a urine tests they can tell whether or not if you have an ammonia its dues legionnaires' disease. ABC's doctor Richard passer thanks so much we appreciate it. Can keep up with this story in real time my gallon ABC news sat and storing this story for exclusive updates. On the go. I'm Caroline Costello in New York.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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