The recent death of a 58-year-old Genesee County woman diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease has left her family grappling for answers.

“I’ve got all these questions — how and why, where did it come from?” said Troy Kidd, whose mother, Debbie Kidd, died Saturday night, several days after experiencing symptoms of the respiratory disease. “You go from never hearing about this thing to ‘It’s over here, it’s over there.’

The death of the woman from Otisville, 20 miles north of Flint, comes as Genesee County has reported 23 cases since October. The county annually averages 33 cases of the respiratory disease.

Elsewhere in the country, a recent outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in New York resulted in seven deaths. There have been 2,400 cases nationwide this year.

“We’re running a little higher this year than last year,” said Mark Valacak, director of the Genesee County Health Department. “We tend to see more cases with warmer weather.”

Legionnaires’ disease is caused by a bacterium called legionella, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The bacteria can develop in hot tubs, commercial air conditioning units and public fountains, Valacak said.

“I think everyone should be aware of the signs and symptoms, which are cough, shortness of breath, high fever, muscle aches, headaches, and sometimes (nausea),” Valacak said. “If you have those symptoms, be sure to see your health care provider.”

The disease can be treated with antibiotics, health officials said. It poses the most risk to people who have underlying medical conditions.

In Wayne County, there have been three confirmed cases of Legionnaires’ from May 1 to July 31, down from 13 during the same period in 2014, according to county officials.

In Oakland County, 10 cases of the disease have been reported so far this year. Last year there were 17.

“This is not out of the realm of what we typically would see in a given year,” said Kathy Forzley, manager and health officer for the Oakland County Health Division.

In Macomb County, there have been 18 cases so far this year. Last year there were 24.

“We see plenty of these cases,” said Dr. Kevin Lokar, medical director of the Macomb County Health Department. “They’re usually just sporadic. There’s no connection.”

Troy Kidd said he has a hot tub, but he doesn’t believe it made his mother sick. She had been staying at his home for a couple of weeks, babysitting his two children. He said she complained of a migraine on July 24, went to the hospital the following day and was given painkillers. A few days later, as her health worsened, she was diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease.

It became increasingly difficult for Debbie Kidd to breathe, and she was placed on a breathing machine, Troy Kidd said. The family made the decision to remove her breathing tube. She died Saturday night.

“For a seemingly healthy person to go from out in the backyard playing one week to seven days later … it doesn’t make sense,” he said.

Troy Kidd said he has collected water samples from around his home and hopes to find someone who can test them.

After the outbreak in New York, the legionella bacteria was discovered last week at a Bronx hotel and in equipment at a hospital.

Officials traced the likely cause of that outbreak to cooling towers, which can release mist. They said 17 towers in the area have been tested, with five testing positive for legionella bacteria. All five of the towers have been decontaminated, officials said.

Dr. Jay Varma, deputy commissioner for disease control for the New York City Department of Health, emphasized that the disease is not passed on from person to person and that most people aren’t at risk.

“This is still a pretty rare disease,” he said.

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Associated Press contributed.


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