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Michigan is experiencing an unprecedented high in a new disease, MDHHS warns

This year, there is a 569% increase in Legionnaires’ disease across the state. The source of this upsurge may be where we swim.

MICHIGAN, USA — There is an unprecedented 569% increase in Legionnaires’ disease across the state, the Michigan Deptartment of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) reports. The organization is attributing this in part to the continuing hot, rainy days this summer – but in general, the recent upsurge may be coming from summer fun. 

Last year, the reported number of Legionnaires’ cases in the first two weeks of July was 16. This year, there were 107 reported cases across 25 Michigan counties. Upticks are usually attributed to environmental factors, like heat and rainfall, but this massive surge is concerning the MDHHS.

Stagnant waters may be a breeding ground for the disease. They present the best environment for bacterial growth, the MDHHS reports. Although, no common sources of infection have been identified to date.

The Legionella bacteria, which creates the disease, is typically found in freshwater lakes and streams, as well as man-made water systems like cooling towers, whirlpool spas and decorative fountains. Warm water, stagnation and low disinfectant levels are conditions that support bacteria growth in these water systems. 

With many facets of society reopening, the disease may be spreading more rapidly. 

Confirmed cases include 19 in Wayne County, 17 in Oakland County and in the City of Detroit and 15 in Macomb County.

Legionnaires’ disease is an infection with symptoms that include fever, cough and pneumonia. The MDHHS is informing healthcare providers statewide of the increase, sharing information regarding testing and treatment.

“Recent weather trends including rain, flooding and warmer weather may be playing a role in the rise of reported legionellosis cases this summer,” said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, MDHHS chief medical executive and chief deputy director for health.

“We want everyone to be aware of Legionnaires’ disease, especially if they may be at higher risk for illness and we ask that healthcare providers remain vigilant, and test and treat appropriately.”

Transmission occurs when mist or vapor containing the bacteria is inhaled. Though, Legionnaires’ disease does not spread person to person. According to the MDHHS, risk factors for exposure to the Legionella bacteria include:

  • Recent travel with an overnight stay.
  • 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 the Legionella bacteria. 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.

The MDHHS is working with local health departments statewide to investigate the reports. For more information, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.

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