NY to deploy teams to help Legionnaires' outbreak testing

(AP) -- State health teams will deploy to the Bronx to help collect and test samples from cooling towers amid a deadly outbreak of Legionnaires' disease as the number of those sickened grew by one to 101, officials said Friday.

Teams will begin work Saturday, and state officials have said they'll pay for the testing. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio earlier this week ordered that within the next 14 days, all buildings with cooling towers that haven't been tested in the last 30 days be tested and any towers found contaminated be disinfected. Failure to comply is a misdemeanor. The bacteria were found in five buildings within a few blocks of one another in the South Bronx, but there is no indication that Legionella has contaminated water systems in buildings.

"A situation like this requires a great deal of detective work. Clearly this is a sleuth mission to find out where this is happening," said State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker.

So far, 10 people have died since the outbreak surfaced last month, making it the deadliest outbreak in the city's history, heath officials said. The victims were adults with underlying medical conditions. The disease is a form of pneumonia caused by breathing in mist contaminated with the Legionella bacteria.

City Health Commissioner Mary Bassett said officials have a good handle on the outbreak, and the frequency of diagnoses is decreasing.

"We have fewer new cases. People are seeking care promptly and getting treatment promptly. We're optimistic that we've seen the worst of this outbreak, and that our remediation efforts are having an impact," she said in a statement.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo had asked representatives from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to come help, and he ordered a long-term review on how the outbreak is being handled.

Dr. Claressa Lucas of the CDC defended the city's response.

"The timing of it (the response) has been very typical," she said. "I think that they have done a very good job to mobilize their resources. I think they are taking this very seriously, and I am encourages by this response."

After the health briefing, Bassett reiterated the response was acceptable.

"The city has responded promptly and effectively, as evidenced by the numbers. The numbers are going down," she said.

Cuomo, hours later, gave a television interview in which he touted the state's response to prevent future outbreaks, declaring, "We can't go through this again."

When asked to weigh in on de Blasio's response to the outbreak, Cuomo demurred, saying only that the "situation became critical" and warranted state assistance.

On average, there are about 540 cases of Legionnaires' disease a year in New York state and about 18,000 cases nationally, and on average. Officials at a Cleveland hospital said Friday that a 53-year-old Ohio woman died from the disease a day earlier.

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Associated Press writer Colleen Long contributed to this report.

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