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State Sees Dramatic Increase In Legionnaire's Disease Infections

hospital room with three beds and medical equipment
Pixabay Creative Commons
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Reactivating some of air conditioning systems and reopening buildings shuttered due to the pandemic could be causing the outbreak.

Officials say hot weather, flooding rains and poor air conditioning maintenance are some reasons for a big spike in Legionnaire’s disease in Michigan.

The outbreak is happening in 25 counties across the state but concentrated in Southeast Michigan with over 60% of the 107 infections occurring in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb Counties.

Over the same period last summer, only 16 cases were reported.

State health department spokesperson Lynn Sutfin said the disease is ever-present in nature. 

“It's found naturally in freshwater lakes and streams. However, it can also be found in the man-made water systems, so we're talking your potable water systems, cooling towers, Whirlpool spas and decorative fountains.”

Sutfin said reactivating some of those air conditioning systems and reopening buildings shuttered due to the pandemic could be causing the outbreak. Legionella bacteria can grow in neglected and unused H-VAC cooling towers. 

“This can also create that environment for that potential growth and amplification of the bacteria," Sutfin said.

But Sutfin said it’s unlikely the disease spread from standing pools of water following the recent flooding. 

“Transmission occurs when a mist or vapor containing the bacteria is inhaled. So, you've got to have this moving water that is putting that mist or that vapor out there for somebody to inhale, so it's not necessarily standing stagnant water that's going to be the issue.”

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services issued a warning to hospitals to be on the lookout for the disease.

Symptoms of Legionnaire's disease include cough, fever, muscle aches and headaches and usually appear within the first ten days after exposure

Those most at-risk of catching Legionnaire's are people who smoke over the age of 50 and people with compromised immune systems.

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