Gov. Snyder Admits 87 Cases Of Legionella In Flint Area Overlapped Lead Poisoning, But Won’t Blame Water Supply

As if the situation in Flint, Michigan wasn’t bad enough, Gov. Rick Snyder and two officials from the Health and Human Services Department announced on Wednesday that between June 2014 and November 2015, there were 87 reported cases of Legionella bacteria infection in the Flint area. The officials say there is no clear evidence that the Legionella outbreak and the switch to the Flint River for the residents’ water supply were linked. The nation is in an uproar already over the Flint water crisis, which prompted the governor to declare a state of emergency in Flint.

From June 2014 to March 2015, Genesee County, which homes Flint, Michigan, saw 45 cases of confirmed Legionella bacterial infection, and seven of those cases were fatal. Additionally, between May 2015 to November 2015, 42 more cases were confirmed in Genesee county, and three of those cases were fatal. Ten fatalities from Legionella bacteria were confirmed in all.

“87 cases is a lot. That tells us that there is a source there that needs to be investigated,” Chief Medical Executive for the Health and Human Services Department Eden Wells explained, according to an Mlive report.

Gov. Rick Snyder and the officials from Michigan’s Health and Human Services Department announced the discovery of the outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in a press conference January 13, 2016 in Detroit, Michigan, where at the same time, a majority of the Detroit Public Schools were closed due to teacher sick-outs, which began when teachers started calling in sick with “Snyder flu.” It was coined the “Snyder flu” after teachers complained that the school facilities were in such poor condition that they were making people sick. Detroit Public Schools were appointed an emergency manager by Gov. Rick Snyder in January 2015, reports indicate. That emergency manager happened to be Darnell Earley, who served as Flint’s emergency manager from September, 2013 until January, 2015 and oversaw the Flint water supply switch. Gov. Snyder is now facing harsh criticism over his administration between the Detroit School situation and the Flint water crisis.

Nationally-known activist Micheal Moore even called for Snyder’s arrest.

Early this month, Gov. Snyder declared the state of emergency in Flint, and he sent in the National Guard on January 12, to deliver water to residents.

Snyder has apologized for the state’s role in the lead levels in Flint’s water and for the lead poisoning discovered in the blood of young children in the Genesee County city, but he asserted Wednesday that while the discovery of the illnesses and deaths caused by Legionella bacteria in the Flint area compounds the crisis the city faces, it can not yet be blamed on the water supply switch that has the nation so angry at him and his administration.

Snyder said Wednesday that the decision to send in the National Guard was in no way related to the spike in Legionnaires’ disease cases, it was strictly to handle the lead poisoning concerns.

“That just added to the disaster we were already facing,” said Gov. Rick Snyder said of the cases of Legionella bacteria. The bacteria grows best in warm water. According to Water Conditioning and Purification Magazine, Legionella was responsible for almost all deaths associated with waterborne disease outbreaks during 2009-2010.

“Sometimes the bacteria infect the lungs and cause pneumonia — if so, it is called Legionnaires’ disease. The bacteria can also cause a less serious infection that seems more like a mild case of the flu. That form of legionellosis is commonly called Pontiac fever,” the CDC states.

Investigators are still trying to determine the source of the bacteria that has killed 10 people in the Flint area.

“That investigation is still going on to try to make those determinations,” Snyder said. “But from a scientific or medical point of view, I don’t believe that determination can be made today.”

“MDHHS cannot conclude that this increase is related to the water switch, due to the lack of clinical isolates during the time period, and because not all of the cases had exposure to the city of Flint water,” said department director Nick Lyon. “That said, the department is treating the situation with the same urgency and transparency as the lead response in the city of Flint.”

Half of the cases happened within the county, but outside of the city. Officials have not stated if the people who lived outside of the city happened to drink water while visiting or working in the city.

Officials haven’t advised that residents stop bathing in the water.

“We have no change in the recommendations regarding bathing or the cleansing of self or showers at this point,” Wells said, according to Mlive, “because Legionella is not — we don’t have any evidence of a community based transmission, number one. Number two: Lead is not — it’s mode of getting into the body is not through the skin.”

[Photo by Michigan Municipal League | Flickr| Creative Commons 2.0]