Ten people have died and 77 others have been sickened by Legionnaires Disease in Flint, Michigan and the the surrounding area since June 2014, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services announced this week. The spike in illnesses began two months after the city of Flint changed its water supply to the Flint River in a money-saving move, but health department officials say it’s too early to tell if the two are related. One reason health officials say they cannot directly link the cases to the water change in Flint is that they don’t have isolates from case patients.
“While Legionellosis cases are not uncommon, we are concerned about the increase in cases seen in Genesee County,” said Eden Wells, M.D., chief medical executive with the MDHHS. “We are releasing this report and continuing surveillance and investigations to ensure that appropriate actions are being taken to protect the health of the residents of Flint.”
From June 2014 to March 2015, there were 45 confirmed cases of Legionnaires Disease, seven of them resulted in fatalities. From May 2015 through November 2015, 42 cases were reported, of those, three were fatalities. Those sickened ranged in age from 26–94.
Legionnaires’ Disease, which does not spread from person-to person, causes pneumonia-like symptoms including fever, cough, fatigue, confusion, aches and lung inflammation. It develops when water mist contaminated with Legionella bacteria is inhaled. The source of contaminated water mist can be showers, faucets, whirlpools, swimming pools, fountains or cooling towers in air conditioning systems.
Between 8,000 and 18,000 Americans are hospitalized with Legionnaires’ Disease. each year. The condition is so-named because it was first discovered when an outbreak of pneumonia struck an American Legion convention in 1976.