Genesee County has first Legionnaires’ case of year

Leonard N. Fleming and Jacob Carah
The Detroit News

The first case of Legionnaires’ disease in Genesee County this year was reported Wednesday and the patient did not get the respiratory ailment in Flint, state and county officials said.

The Michigan Department of Heath and Human Services and the Genesee County Health Department said Wednesday that the individual, who has not been identified, is being treated in an unidentified hospital. Officials say they are working to figure out how the person may have been exposed to the disease.

Legionnaires’ disease is caused by a certain bacteria in warm fresh water that leads to pneumonia. The bacteria can be found in large plumbing systems, hot tubs, air-conditioning units in large buildings and fountains, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Michigan is experiencing an increase this year in Legionnaires’ disease cases, but had not reported any cases of the respiratory disease in the Flint area through the first half of the year. An outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease killed 12 people in the Flint area during the past two years.

There have been 65 cases of Legionnaires’ statewide, the state agency said.

The disease was identified by investigators from the Genesee County Health Department after a hospital physician tested a patient for Legionella, state Chief Medical Officer Dr. Eden Wells said.

“The local health department has been working closely with the state epidemiologist,” she said.

The patient was identified as a resident of the county, not Flint, Wells said in a statement.

“Because this particular patient was found not to be in the city of Flint during the previous two weeks prior to diagnosis, we can be comfortable in saying this was not an infection that was acquired within the city of Flint,” she said.

Dr. Shawn McElmurry, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Wayne State University, is leading a multidisciplinary team of researchers into the Flint contamination situation. In response to the Genesee County Legionnaires’ diagnosis, he said his team is trying to ensure “we don’t have a third year of Legionella cases we can’t specifically address.”

The country has experienced a steady rise in Legionnaires’ cases in the past decade, and McElmurry said he anticipates seeing more as the research moves forward.

Department of Health and Human Services officials again urged residents to take precautions against Legionnaires’ disease as Michigan enters the warmer part of the year when cases normally begin to rise.

In mid-January, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder’s Flint task force predicted another surge in Legionnaires’ this spring in Genesee County. It recommended Flint’s health care facilities extend disinfection safeguards to all air treatment and cooling systems.

There was an outbreak of Legionnaires’ in the Flint area starting in 2014 that sickened 79 people and killed 12. Forty-five cases resulting in five deaths were reported for the June 2014-March 2015 period and 46 cases resulting in seven deaths for the May-October 2015 period.

lfleming@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2620

Twitter:@leonardnfleming