Although city officals are blaming cooling towers infected with bacteria for the Legionnaires' outbreak in the south Bronx, some experts say that doesn't fully explain why so many residents have gotten so sick. NY1's Erin Clarke filed the following report.

Some health experts believe the south Bronx has been hit hard by Legionnaires' disease because of the borough's poor health. People with respiratory problems, a weak immune system and other health issues are most at risk, and the Bronx is the unhealthiest county in the state.

"There is a saturation of poor health right in this neighborhood," said Diana Hernandez, a sociologist with the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health.

"We live in asthma alley. We have the highest rates of asthma in the country, and this disease clearly impacts people with respiratory illness more than it does the average Joe who's healthy," said Ed Garcia Conde, founder of Welcome2TheBronx.

Hernandez says she is proof of that. Every day, the healthy 31-year-old walks from her home past Lincoln Hospital, where legionella bacteria was detected in a cooling tower, to visit a gym in the same building as the Opera House Hotel, which also had a contaminated cooling tower. But she never got sick.

"It's the people who go to Lincoln Hospital for services, people who stay in the homeless shelter," said Eddie Borges, who is directing a documentary about child poverty in the south Bronx. "The local court house where the poor cycle in and out all day. They're the ones who are sick because they're already susceptible."

Nearly four in 10 residents here live below the federal poverty level, the poorest congressional district in America. Substandard housing and the lack of primary health care contribute to the poor health here.

"We have senior housing. We have a high degree of HIV-positive folks. All risk factors our people have," said Marty Rogers, a Melrose resident.

Some say the city might have even been able to prevent the outbreak if it had first handled the underlying health issues that many people in this area and much of the south Bronx face.

In response, City Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett said, "I think it's reasonable to ask the question, 'Did we have a vulnerable population at the same time that we had a population that was exposed to a cooling tower?' And that those together worked to give us the type of outbreak that we saw."

Mayor Bill de Blasio said his administration will learn from this crisis to prevent another outbreak.