LANSING, Mich. – Today, an older adult resident in Genesee County was confirmed as the first Legionnaires’ disease case for the county this year, by the Genesee County Health Department (GCHD) and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS). The individual is currently hospitalized. At this time, there is no indication that the individual was exposed within the city of Flint.
GCHD and MDHHS are working to quickly investigate this first confirmed case in Genesee County for 2016 to identify where the resident may have been exposed, as well as to ensure follow up on any additional cases. Each year, Legionnaires’ disease has been identified in Genesee County and other Michigan counties, as well as across the United States. To date, there have been 65 confirmed cases of Legionnaires’ disease in Michigan in 2016. In most years, Genesee County has had nine to 11 cases. Enhanced surveillance and preventive measures are being taken as a result of the increase of cases from 2014-2015 when there were 91 cases.
Legionnaires’ disease is a kind of pneumonia, or an infection of the lungs. Like other types of pneumonia it can lead to complications if not treated quickly. People can get Legionnaires’ disease by breathing in small droplets of water (mist) that contain Legionella bacteria. In general, Legionella does not spread from one person to another. People also don’t get Legionnaires’ disease from drinking water, but may be exposed if water goes down the airway.
It’s a good idea to talk to your doctor to find out if you are at increased risk for getting Legionnaires’ disease. Most healthy people do not get sick after being exposed to Legionella. Being 50 years or older or having certain risk factors increases the chances of getting sick. Other risk factors include being a current or former smoker; having chronic lung disease, such as emphysema or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; having a weakened immune system from diseases like cancer, diabetes, or kidney failure; or taking medicine that weakens your immune system. Legionnaires’ disease is not common in children.
Although people can get Legionnaires’ disease at any time of year, it’s more common in summer and fall when temperatures are warmer. Legionella bacteria occur naturally in freshwater, like lakes and streams. Large water systems, like those found in hospitals, hotels, and other large buildings, can sometimes grow Legionella bacteria, if they are not properly maintained. The most common sources of exposure from these types of buildings are air conditioning systems with cooling towers, hot tubs and spas, or decorative fountains.
Finding Legionella in a water system is not uncommon. Studies have shown that Legionella bacteria can be found in anywhere from 6 to 33 percent of sampled homes, however, even if it is found, the risk of the average person getting Legionnaires’ disease from their home water system is very low.
To ensure that potential points of exposure within the community are addressed, GCHD and MDHHS are working with Wayne State University and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to help protect residents from Legionnaires’ disease.
Legionnaires’ disease begins with flu-like symptoms such as fever, headache, muscle aches, and chills. In some people, more serious symptoms start to develop in as little as 1 to 2 days, including high fever, a cough that is usually dry but sometimes produces mucus, difficulty breathing, chest pains, chills, or diarrhea.
Talk to your doctor if you have symptoms of Legionnaires’ disease. It is difficult to tell if it is Legionnaires’ disease or another type of pneumonia, so make sure to tell your doctor if you have recently been in a hot tub, stayed in a hotel or traveled. Legionnaires’ disease can be treated effectively using antibiotics, which work best if they are given early on in the illness. In most instances, people with Legionnaires’ disease will need treatment in the hospital.