Hot weather, flooding rains and reopening of buildings after pandemic restrictions are some reasons for a big spike in Legionnaires’ disease in Michigan, according to state health officials. The flooding rains have also created the perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes this summer.
The Legionnaires’ 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 in the first two weeks of July.
Lynn Sutfin, a spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, says the bacteria that causes the disease, which is a serious type of pneumonia, is ever-present in nature.
“Legionella bacteria is found naturally in freshwater lakes and streams. However, it can also be found in the manmade water systems. We’re talking your potable water systems, cooling towers, Whirlpool spas and decorative fountains.”
She says the Legionella bacteria grows in neglected and unused HVAC cooling towers, with many of these systems in buildings that were shut down during pandemic restrictions.
“We also know that many buildings are currently reopening after being closed for an extended period of time during the pandemic. So this can also create that environment for that potential growth and amplification of the bacteria.”
Sutfin says standing water after heavy rains by itself won’t infect people with Legionnaires’, but it could be harmful if it becomes aerosolised.
“Transmission occurs when a mist or vapour containing the bacteria is inhaled. You’ve got to have this moving water that is putting that mist or that vapour out there for somebody to inhale. So, it’s not necessarily standing stagnant water that’s going to be the issue.”
This week, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services issued a warning to hospitals to be on the lookout for the disease.
Those most at-risk of catching the disease are smokers over 50 and people with compromised immune systems.
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