According to the Detroit News, an expert for McLaren Regional Medical Center stated that Flint’s contaminated water “likely contributed” to the Legionnaires’ Disease outbreak in Genesee County. The pathogenic bacteria was found in that hospital’s water supply, and a “high number” of those diagnosed with the illness (16 of the 45 cases in that county) were patients at the hospital before they got sick.
Janet Stout, a research associate professor at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering told the paper “the water quality issues, from a microbiological point of view, certainly were a factor in the increase in Legionnaires’ Disease in Genesee County.” She also said that the legionella bacteria probably entered the hospital via “brown water”, delivered by the Flint water system, that was heavy in organic matter that feed the bacteria.
Dr. Eden Wells, Chief Medical Executive with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, said in a statement, “While cases of Legionnaires’ Disease are not expected in the winter, we remain fully engaged with the Genesee County Health Department as well as our federal partners at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.” Legionnaires’ outbreaks usually happen in the warmer weather months, since the bacteria grows best in warm water. McLaren’s states they have taken “corrective measures” with the water supply and says that the water is now “well within safety and quality standards.”
State health officials and hospital officials have been saying that it was not clear if the Legionnaires’ Disease outbreak was linked to Flint’s water problems. The city, under an emergency financial manager appointed by Republican Governor Rick Snyder, stopped getting its water supply from Detroit’s water system in 2014 and instead took it from the Flint River to save money. Soon after this change, residents began complaining about murky, smelly, and bad tasting water that was making people sick.
The corrosive river water leached lead from Flint’s aging water pipes and hundreds of children have since suffered from lead poisoning as a result of the manager’s decision. Lead poisoning can reduce IQ, cause learning disabilities and developmental delays, and can slow physical growth. Adults can suffer from high blood pressure, memory loss, decline in mental functioning, mood disorders, and miscarriage or premature birth in pregnant women. In addition, the corrosive effects of the water could have contributed to the presence of legionella bacteria in the city’s water supply.
Statewide, the cases of Legionnaires’ Disease from June 2014 to March 2015 stands at 87, with nine deaths. In Genesee County, which is where the city of Flint is located, there have been 45 confirmed cases, including five associated fatalities.
The symptoms of Legionnaires’ Disease are similar to pneumonia. They include fever, chills, cough, muscle aches, fatigue, loss of appetite, shortness of breath, confusion, and diarrhea. Symptoms usually begin within two to fourteen days after exposure to the pathogenic bacteria.
Those most at risk for contracting Legionnaires’ Disease include people over the age of 50, current or former smokers, those with chronic lung diseases such as COPD or emphysema, and people with a weakened immune system. Anyone suffering from a chronic illness such as cancer or kidney failure are also at higher risk for complications from this disease. The fatality rate of Legionnaires’ Disease is about 30%.