Newswise — For many, the months of July and August are a time for relaxation by the pool and vacation with the family, but this June, after several people in New York City were diagnosed with Legionnaire’s disease in less than two weeks, an expert at New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine (NYITCOM) urges people to take caution. Jerry Balentine, D.O. and vice president for Medical Affairs and Global Health at NYITCOM, reminds vacationers that summer is also a time when many are exposed to Legionnaire’s Disease.

“If your summer plans include travel, please be mindful that this disease has been linked to contaminated water supplies in hotels and cruise ships,” says Balentine, who recently contributed an article on Legionnaires’ disease to the online news source, eMedicinehealth.com.

Caused by bacteria that grow in warm water and spread via inhaled water vapor, Legionnaire’s disease infects 5,000 patients each year, killing 1 in 10, according to the an estimate by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Cases are reported more frequently during the summer and early fall, when temperatures rise and provide a more hospitable habitat for the bacteria.

“During these months, the natural habitat is not only more welcoming to the bacteria, but in many ways our daily summertime habits may unknowingly expose us to the bacteria,” says Balentine. “With more air conditioners being turned on, and beachgoers visiting bodies of water where the bacteria may live naturally, people are more at risk.”

Balentine urges patients to see a physician if they experience symptoms similar to pneumonia and the flu, including fever, chills, muscle aches and cough, which are also common symptoms of Legionnaires’ disease. Groups at high risk include smokers, those with underlying health issues (including lung disease), people over age 50, and patients with compromised immune systems, especially those treated for cancer and HIV.

“We should not live in fear or cancel our activities, but we should understand the symptoms that may be associated with the disease and seek treatment right away, if necessary,” says Balentine.    

Dr. Balentine can be reached for comment at [email protected]