73 new cases of Legionnaires’ disease found throughout Metro Detroit

LANSING – Michigan’s Department of Health and Human Services announced on Friday that officials are investigating a spike in Legionnaire’s disease cases in Wayne, Macomb and Oakland counties.

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At least 73 cases of the disease that plagued Flint residents throughout the water crisis were identified in Southeast Michigan and Metro Detroit between June and July, according to the state health department. 

An illustration of potentially deadly Legionella bacteria. 

The uptick amounts to a 143-percent increase from the 30 cases identified in the same months between 2014 and 2016.

Meanwhile, health officials say that the pathogen known as Legionella is most commonly found in patients with legionellosis during summer and early fall. The cause for concern is the amount of cases they’re seeing, the department said.

To date, Michigan health officials have not identified a common source of the infection.

Legionellosis is a respiratory infection caused by Legionella bacteria.

Legionnaires’ disease is an infection with symptoms that include fever, cough, and pneumonia.  A milder form of legionellosis, Pontiac fever, is an influenza-like illness without pneumonia that resolves on its own. 

Legionella bacteria are found naturally in fresh water lakes and streams, but can also be found in man-made water systems.

Potable water systems, cooling towers, whirlpool spas, and decorative fountains offer common environments for bacterial growth and transmission if they are not cleaned and maintained properly. 

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That was the case in Flint, as experts determined that the city’s water issues were a root cause in the spread of the deadly disease that killed 12 people in Genesse County.

The rapid spike in Legionnaires’ cases coincided with the city’s use of the Flint River as a water source starting in April 2014.

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Transmission between people occurs when mist or vapor containing the bacteria is inhaled, according to the health department.  

Legionellosis does not spread from one person to another. Risk factors for exposure to Legionella bacteria include:

  • Recent travel with an overnight stay outside of the home
  • Recent stay in a healthcare facility
  • Exposure to hot tubs
  • Exposure to settings where the plumbing has had recent repairs or maintenance work

Most healthy individuals do not become infected after exposure to Legionella.  Individuals at a higher risk of getting sick include the following:

  • People over age 50
  • Current or former smokers
  • People with chronic lung disease
  • People with weakened immune systems from diseases, such as cancer, diabetes, or liver or kidney failure
  • People who take immunosuppressant drugs

State and local health departments will said they continue to monitor cases and provide updates when available. 

More information on Legionella and Legionnaires’ disease can be found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website www.cdc.gov/legionella.

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