According to a recent report on CNN.com, the ongoing water crisis in Flint, Michigan had an added bit of bad news yesterday.
Gov. Rick Snyder announced on Wednesday that the number of cases of Legionnaires’ disease has spiked in Genesee County since Flint switched its water supply from the Great Lakes to the Flint River, two years ago.
Dr. Marc Edwards, a researcher from Virginia Tech who studied the drinking water in Flint and found the disturbingly high levels of lead, has said it will be very difficult, if not next to impossible to create a concrete link between the contaminated water supply and the rise in Legionnaire’s disease.
Despite that fact, he has been quoted as saying, “What’s clear is that there’s an association, which means that the increase of the Legionnaires increased pretty dramatically. And there’s a strong likelihood that it’s related to the water supply. We’ll never know for sure, but we did find very high levels in the time period when they were on the Flint River water.”
It’s a tricky situation. In order for the rise in the disease to be pinpointed on Flint’s consumption of Flint River water, the type of Legionnaires’ disease found in someone’s body would have to match the same type in the water supply, which can prove to be difficult to do.
According to CNN, Edwards said this might be the first case of Legionnaires’ connected to lack of corrosion control.
How did it all start? It’s a sad story of trying to save dollars. In 2014, Flint, a city of about 100,000 people began sourcing its water from the Flint River in an effort to save the city money. Flint had previously sourced its water from Lake Huron, buying it from the city of Detroit. The Michigan state government chose to switch the supply source to the Flint River in a short-sighted effort to save money for the economically depressed area.
What wasn’t known was that the Flint River water needed to be treated with different chemicals than the Lake Huron water. In switching the treatment, the chemicals used proceeded to erode the city’s pipes, causing them to leach intolerable levels of lead into the water supply.
The crisis escalated and on January 5 of this year, Gov. Snyder declared a state of emergency for Genesee County in connection with the water crisis.
Local police and the National Guard have been called in to deliver bottled water to Flint residents, door-to-door. The new announcement of the rise in Legionnaire’s Disease in the area is just another brick in the wall of a growing emergency.
So what does this mean for residents? Legionnaires’ disease is a severe form of pneumonia, resulting in lung inflammation caused by a bacterium known as legionella. You can’t contract the disease from another person, but most people get it from inhaling the bacteria in the air.
Smokers and people with compromised immune systems are particularly good targets for this illness.
On a further note, according to the Mayo Clinic, the legionella bacterium also causes Pontiac fever, a milder illness resembling the flu. Separately or together, the two illnesses are sometimes called legionellosis.
People suffering from Pontiac fever can usually get better on their own, but untreated Legionnaires’ disease can actually be fatal.
Symptoms of Legionnaires’ Disease typically begin with:
- Muscle pain
- Fever that may be 104 F (40 C) or higher
According to the Mayo Clinic, by the second or third day, sufferers will develop other signs and symptoms that can include:
- Cough, which may bring up mucus and sometimes blood
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Gastrointestinal symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhea
- Confusion or other mental changes
If you think you have contracted Legionnaires’ Disease, seek out a doctor and medical treatment via antibiotics immediately.
Clean water is a must. Let’s fix this, Michigan.