Health department issues warning about Legionnaires’ Disease risk during summer

FLINT — The Genesee County Health Department (GCHD) reminds residents of the seasonal increase in the risk of Legionnaires’ Disease (LD).

GCHD continues to investigate LD cases and educate residents, healthcare providers, and building managers of the risk of Legionella bacteria and how to prevent or protect against the spread of LD.

To date, there have been nine confirmed cases of LD reported in Genesee County in 2021, compared to nine cases in 2019 and three cases in 2020 during the same time periods.

The cases have been spread throughout Genesee County and on multiple water sources. There is no evidence of clustering of cases.

Although Legionella bacteria growth can occur year-round, LD is more common during the summer and early fall due to the ideal environment created by warmer temperatures , Also increasing the risk, are structures with complex water systems such as in long-term care facilities, hospitals, hotels, and cruise ships.

Proper maintenance and disinfection of the water systems in which Legionella grow, including hot tubs, hot water tanks, humidifiers, nebulizers, cooling towers, and decorative fountains are the most effective measures in preventing LD. Cleaning, disinfecting and maintenance should follow manufacturer recommendations.

LD is not spread from person to person. LD can infect someone when they breathe in a mist or accidentally swallow water containing Legionella into the lungs. Symptoms typically appear two to 14 days after exposure to the bacteria. Most healthy people do not get LD after being exposed to Legionella. Individuals at higher risk of developing LD include those ages 50 and above, current or former smokers, and people with chronic lung disease or weakened immune systems from other underlying illnesses or medications. Symptoms can include cough, shortness of breath, fever, muscle aches, headaches, and sometimes diarrhea or mental status changes. Treatment with antibiotics is necessary and most cases can be treated successfully.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, some office buildings, restaurants, and other large buildings may have been closed for an extended time. Flushing of pipes after a large building has been closed for an extended time is a critical step to prevent LD due to Legionella bacteria. Flushing, when done properly, removes stagnant water from all areas of the building. This requires running water through all plumbing fixtures long enough to bring fresh water into the plumbing system. A thorough flushing should occur in the days before reopening. — G.G.