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Legionnaire’s Disease Scare in Syracuse Hospital Prompts Disinfection of Water Cooling Towers

Petri.One of the largest hospitals in Syracuse had another major health scare this month after routine testing of its cooling towers revealed bacteria that can cause Legionnaire’s disease.

According to, St. Josephs’s Hospital Health Center is dealing with the threat of Legionnaire’s disease for the second time in four months after three patients were diagnosed with the severe form of pneumonia in September and October.

St. Joe’s received test results that confirmed the bacteria’s presence in its cooling towers on Nov. 24 but did not announce the findings until weeks later. The hospital maintains there is no indication that its cooling towers have sickened any patients or Syracuse residents.

Cooling towers are commonly used to store large quantities of water, and while more than 1,500 industrial facilities use them to cool their plants, St. Joe’s cooling towers only provide water to the hospital’s air conditioning system. The towers were immediately disinfected upon discovering the bacteria.

September’s Legionnaire’s disease scare was much more serious. Bacteria was detected in the hospital’s drinking water, and to prevent the disease from spreading among patients, St. Joe’s installed filters on faucets in every single patient’s room.

The hospital said that no additional cases of the disease have been reported by patients or staff in more than six weeks.

Legionnaire’s outbreaks have been disturbingly common throughout New York in the past year. According to the New York Daily News, an outbreak of the disease in the South Bronx this summer killed 12 people and sickened 127 others.

Upstate Medical University, which is mere minutes from St. Joe’s, decontaminated three of its cooling towers in August after the same bacteria was detected in them.

Additionally, there was the Legionnaire’s outbreak in Onondaga Hill in 2008 that killed one person while sickening 13 others, also linked to a cooling tower that housed the bacteria.

St. Joe’s has said that Legionella bacteria is found in 30 to 50% of cooling towers as they attempt to explain how this happened to them twice in one year.

When asked why the hospital waited so long to announce the cooling tower test results, St. Joe’s spokeswoman Betsy Bedigian said that there are no official policies regarding public disclosure of test results within normal ranges.

“However, due to internal concerns we decided to share our findings,” said Bedigian in an email.