Could awareness of Legionnaire’s Disease have saved lives in Flint?


LANSING, MI (WLNS) – It’s been less than 24 hours since e-mails released by Progress Michigan showed officials from Governor Rick Snyder’s office knew about an outbreak of the disease months before the public did.

Friday, Governor Snyder defended his staff and placed blame squarely on the shoulders of officials in the Department of Environmental Quality.

According to Governor Snyder one of his aides responded to concerns about the disease last March, asking the DEQ to look into it.

According to the Governor, DEQ officials were skeptical of any link between the water and Legionnaires’ Disease and the aide didn’t bring it up again.

Earlier today, the Governor announced he fired the head of the Michigan DEQ water quality unit.

In addition Snyder states he made the move because he wasn’t informed about the situation.

Ten people in Genesee County have died from Legionnaire’s Disease over the past 17 months; But if people had known about the potential connection to flint’s water during those months, could their lives have been saved?

Legionnaires’ Disease is a serious type of Pneumonia caused by breathing in a bacteria called Legionella.

‘It’s a bacteria that grows in water systems” Jevon McFadden MD, Medical epidemiologist field officer for the Department of Health and Human Services said.

In April 2014, the city of flint switched its water from the Detroit’s water system to the Flint river.

On March of 2015, Jim Henry, the Environmental Health Supervisor for Gennesee County sent an email to health officials stating, they noticed an increase of Legionnaries’ Disease. The email states he believes it “closely corresponds with the timeframe of the switch to the Flint River water.”

In that same email Henry states “This situation is explicitly explained to the MDEQ and many of the city officials. I want to make sure in writing that there are no misunderstandings regarding this significant and urgent public health issue.”

According to medical officer Jevon McFadden the symptoms of Legionnaires’ Disease could be easily mistaken for another sickness.

“You know fatigue sometimes shortness of breath, there’s a wide range of illnesses that could begin that way. The thing about Legionnaires’ Disease is it develop fairly quickly into a severe respiratory infection” Dr. McFadden said.

The sickness can be treated with an antibiotic, but if not treated quickly, it could be deadly.

“If for some reason somebody doesn’t seek medical care, they’re chances of having a poorer outcome is certainly a lot higher” McFadden said.

Statistics show that 5 to 30 percent of people who get Legionnaires will die.

In Flint there was a total of ten deaths, which according to McFadden is about ten percent of the people impacted by Legionnaires’ disease.

Overall, the lesson remains the same. An early diagnosis increases your chances of survival.

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