MDHHS sees increase in Legionnaires’ disease, working with health providers


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — State officials are working with local health departments to investigate an increase in reported cases of Legionnaires’ disease.

On Monday, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services said 107 cases of Legionnaires’ disease were reported in 25 counties between July 1 and July 14. The recent rise represents a 569% increase from this time last year when there were 16 cases and a 161% increase from this time in 2019 when there were 41 cases, MDHHS said.

Legionnaires’ disease, a respiratory infection, is caused by legionella bacteria. Symptoms include fever, cough and pneumonia.

The bacteria can also cause Pontiac fever, a milder form of Legionnaires’ disease. Pontiac fever is similar to the flu, but without pneumonia and typically resolves on its own.

Legionella bacteria grow best in stagnant water systems during the summer and early fall, according to health officials. The disease isn’t spread person to person. Instead, it’s spread when mist or vapor that contains legionella is inhaled.

“Recent weather trends including rain, flooding and warmer weather may be playing a role in the rise of reported legionellosis cases this summer,” Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state’s chief medical executive, said in a statement. “We want everyone to be aware of Legionnaire’s disease, especially if they may be at higher risk for illness and we ask that healthcare providers remain vigilant, and test and treat appropriately.”

Derel Glashower, senior epidemiologist with the Ottawa County Department of Public Health, says they take every case seriously.

“I think it’s a very substantial increase and one that we in public health and the health care industry should be concerned about,” Glasshower said.

Dr. Richard Van Enk, director of Infection Prevention and Epidemiology with Bronson Healthcare, says the real concern is breathing in the bacteria.

“Anytime you have splashing or aerosolization of water, that’s your risk. And that could be a shower, and that could be like a hot tub,” Van Enk said.

Doctors says flushing out water systems in buildings like some that have been mostly stagnant during the pandemic is also crucial.

Of the cases reported recently, 19 were in Wayne County, 17 were in Oakland County and the city of Detroit, respectively, and 15 were in Macomb County.

Several West Michigan counties reported cases:

  • Berrien: 1
  • Calhoun: 1
  • Cass: 1
  • Kalamazoo: 2
  • Kent: 1
  • Newaygo: 1
  • Ottawa: 2
  • Van Buren: 1

Health departments across the state are now working to advise care providers regarding testing and treatment.

Risks for exposure include:

  • Recent travel with an overnight stay
  • Recent stay in a health care facility
  • Exposure to hot tubs
  • Exposure to settings where the plumbing has had recent repairs

Most healthy people who have been exposed will not be infected, but some are at higher risk:

  • People over age 50
  • Current or former smokers
  • People with chronic lung disease
  • People with weakened immune systems from diseases
  • People who take immunosuppressant drugs

More information on Legionnaires’ disease can be found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website.

— News 8’s Kyle Mitchell contributed to this report.

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