LaGuardia Community College students received an email on Aug. 2 notifying them of a potentially dangerous outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease, a type of lung infection.
The bacteria Legionella grows naturally in hot water, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and that’s exactly what happened at the community college when the bacteria infiltrated Building C’s hot water system.
The city Department of Health contacted the school in June, stating that two school employees had contracted the virus between August 2011 and June 2012. Outbreaks usually occur in the summer and fall; however, the exact time of the incidents were not released to the administration. Annually, 8,000 to 18,000 people are hospitalized with Legionnaires’ disease, according to the CDC.
The condition and names of the two employees are unknown, according to LGCC spokeswoman Susan Lyddon.
“The New York City Department of Health does not release that information, so we don’t know,” Lyddon said.
However, the school sprang into action. The institution hired Olmsted Environmental Services, a Garrison, NY-based industrial hygiene and safety company, to conduct tests identifying the bacteria. Then in cooperation with the DOH the school turned the hot water system off, flushed it out to rid it of any sediment, and then boiled and chlorinated the water.
The cleaning ended over the weekend, but the school will continue to monitor the water system, according to Lyddon.
“We are following the right steps and people aren’t in danger,” she said.
Although the disease can result in death in 5 to 30 percent of the cases, according to the CDC, it’s fairly difficult to contract. Most individuals who come in contact with the bacteria do not fall ill. Also, the bacteria does not spread from person to person. Individuals must directly breathe in the Legionella bacteria, which is carried in mist or water vapor.
Prospective student Kimberly Rose was “a little concerned” by the reports, but not deterred from her intentions to enroll for the fall.
“I’ll just carry a lot of hand sanitizer,” she said on Aug. 3.
LGCC student Luis Munoz also wasn’t worried by the news after receiving the email on Aug. 2.
“I won’t be affected in any way,” he said. “I don’t feel threatened.”
He said the email explained how the bacterial infection is contracted, and the symptoms and likelihood of falling ill from it.
Symptoms include high fever, chills, a cough, muscle aches and headaches. However, antibiotics taken at first signs of detection usually kill the bacteria, according to CDC literature.