The Ministry of Health informs the public of the increase in Legionella bacteria

TOMPKINS COUNTY, NY—The Tompkins County Health Department (TCHD) is advising the community that a cooling tower located in the Tompkins County Mental Health Department at 201 East Green Street has shown elevated levels of a bacterium called Legionella.

The cooling tower is part of a system for recirculating water in the building’s cooling, refrigeration, or power system, and all owners of cooling towers in New York State are required to regularly test the towers for this bacteria and disinfect them regularly.

Integrated Water Management (IWM), the entity responsible for managing the health department’s cooling tower, received sample results on September 1 showing that the concentration of Legionella in the tower was > 1,500 colony forming units per milliliter. Anything over 1,000 units per milliliter requires public notification, review of tower treatment protocols, and tower decontamination.

IWM performed the cooling tower decontamination on September 8, notified Tompkins County Environmental Health of the increased levels, reviewed the treatment protocol, and will retest within the next seven days.

If high levels of bacteria persist, further decontamination and disinfection will be required.

With respect to this exposure, the risk to the public is low and the mental health building will remain open to the public during business hours.

Legionella occurs naturally in the environment and people often receive low levels of exposure without contracting the disease. Exposure to Legionella can cause legionellosis (Legionnaires’ disease) and, if left untreated, can lead to pneumonia.

Those most at risk are those with weakened immune systems, current or former smokers, people with chronic lung diseases, or people over 50.

Symptoms can include the following:

  • Cough, shortness of breath, high fever, muscle aches and headaches
  • If left untreated, this bacterial disease can cause pneumonia
  • The incubation period for Legionnaire’s disease ranges from 2 to 10 days
  • Most cases of illness associated with Legionella can be successfully treated with antibiotics
  • Legionnaires’ disease has not been proven to be contagious from person to person, so there is no need to quarantine or isolate infected people
  • People of any age can get Legionnaires’ disease, but the disease most often affects older people.
  • People with underlying diseases or whose immune systems are less resistant to disease are also at higher risk. It rarely occurs in otherwise healthy people

If you develop these symptoms, see your health care provider and further questions can be directed to TCHD at (607) 274-6600 or online here.