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Health Advisory: Local Increase in Legionella Related Illness; Caution Advised

(Ithaca, N.Y., August 28, 2023) – Tompkins County Whole Health (TCWH) is advising the community of an increase incases of Legionellosis. Legionellosis is caused by exposure to the bacteria Legionella, and is a term used to describe multiple diseases, including Legionnaire’s Disease, Pontiac Fever and Extrapulmonary Legionellosis. Since June 2023, twelve (12) cases have been identified in the City and Town of Ithaca, and one death has been reported as of August 28. Symptoms of Legionellosis can include cough, shortness of breath, high fever, muscle aches, and headaches. If left untreated, this bacterial disease may cause pneumonia. People most at risk are those with a weakened immune system, current or former smokers, those with a chronic lung disease (like Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) or emphysema), or those over 50 years of age.

There is currently no established connection between the local cases, and the risk to the general public is low, though caution is advised for those most at risk. As is typical of Legionellosis, all of the local cases have required hospitalization and have primarily occurred in those over 50 years old and, most commonly, in persons who have other chronic health conditions. Legionellosis is not common but can be fatal. The Center for Disease Control states that one person out of 20 who are exposed to Legionella will become ill, and in rare instances it can cause death from pneumonia.

Legionella bacteria does not spread from one person to another. People may become ill with Legionellosis after breathing in air droplets that contain Legionella bacteria. Legionella bacteria exist naturally in the environment and people often receive low-level exposure without contracting the disease. The bacteria grow best in warm water, including locations such as cooling towers, hot water tanks, large plumbing systems, and hot tubs or decorative fountains that are not properly maintained. Cooling towers are a common source of Legionella. While they are routinely tested and inspected as required by the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH), local towers are currently undergoing a thorough process of additional testing, review and, when deemed necessary by NYSDOH, disinfection. Whole Health’s Environmental Health Division is working with NYSDOH to monitor and oversee the testing and treatment of regulated facilities.

TCWH’s Director of Community Health Services Rachel Buckwalter stated, “We are sharing this general information about Legionella due to the increase in Legionellosis cases. We are awaiting confirmation of results which may assist in determining the source or sources of Legionella bacteria. At this time no source has been officially identified. The community is advised to be aware of the situation, monitor their health for symptoms, and seek treatment if symptoms develop. Most cases of illness can be treated successfully with antibiotics.”

Symptoms and Treatment

  • Symptoms can include cough, shortness of breath, high fever, muscle aches, and headaches. If you develop these symptoms, consult with your healthcare provider.
  • If left untreated, this bacterial disease may cause pneumonia.
  • The incubation period (or time from exposure to first signs of illness) for Legionellosis generally ranges from two to fourteen days.
  • Most cases of illness associated with Legionella can be treated successfully with antibiotics.
  • Legionellosis has not been proven to be contagious from person to person, so quarantine or isolation of infected persons is not required.
  • People of any age can get Legionellosis, but the disease most often affects older adults. People with underlying illnesses or with lowered immune system resistance to disease are also at higher risk. Severe illness rarely occurs in otherwise healthy people.

TCWH’s Medical Director, Dr. William Klepack stated, “While the risk of acquiring Legionellosis is low, it is important to be aware of the typical symptoms of the disease so that care for this serious condition can be started at an early stage. We are updating local healthcare practitioners about the current situation, its diagnosis, and treatment.  Older adults and those with co-morbidities should be most diligent in monitoring themselves as they are most at risk of severe illness and hospitalization, as we have seen in our local cases.”

If you have any questions regarding this incident, please contact Tompkins County Whole Health at (607) 274-6600 for additional information. Learn more about Legionella and Legionellosis online at: Legionellosis (Legionella) | Tompkins County NY.

Tompkins County Whole Health (formerly the Tompkins County Health Department) envisions a future where every person in Tompkins County can achieve wellness. Find us online at, and follow us on Facebook at and on Twitter at @TCWholeHealth. Get Whole Health updates or other county announcements via email or text, sign up here.

Media contact: Shannon Alvord,