National Legionnaires’ Organization: Michigan DOH Applying Lessons from Flint Water Crisis in Analysis of Spike in Legionnaires Cases

MICHIGAN – The Alliance to Prevent Legionnaires’ Disease, a national organization dedicated to reducing the occurrence of Legionnaires’ disease, today issued the following statement in response to the recent announcement by the Michigan Department of Health of 107 sporadic cases of Legionnaires’ disease across 25 counties in Michigan occurring between July 1 and July 14, 2021:

“Michigan has faced far too much tragedy with unsafe drinking water and Legionnaires’ disease, with the Flint Water Crisis that has drawn national attention. The Alliance is glad to see and recognize the Michigan Department of Health (MDOH) for proactively alerting the public to the rise in cases and citing possible disruptions in the public water distribution system as key potential factors.

The Flint water crisis occurred in 2014 when the city switched its drinking water supply from Detroit’s system to the Flint River.  The change resulted in a variety of water supply system disruptions, changes in water flows, inadequate treatment, and increased organic and corrosion content that feeds bacteria such as legionella that causes the bacterial pneumonia known as Legionnaires’ disease.

The MDOH providing early notice of the recent increase in cases across a broad area in the state is a critical step to help the individuals most susceptible to respiratory illness take steps needed to reduce their risk and to seek immediate medical attention at the first sign of symptoms.

MDOH stated that with the current spike in cases ‘recent weather trends including rain, flooding and warmer weather may be playing a role.’  The Alliance shares those concerns based on cases across the country where similar conditions upset the public water distribution system, releasing legionella from biofilm that coats water distribution pipes and sending it downstream into homes and facilities where humans are exposed and can become ill. The health consequences can be serious, with one in 10 individuals contracting Legionnaires’ disease ultimately dying from it.

The Alliance to Prevent Legionnaires’ Disease urges Michiganders to be acutely aware of possible home-based exposure, through water during showering, bathing, faucet and other use. Legionnaires’ outbreaks draw news headlines, but 96 percent of all cases are individual and sporadic not tied to outbreaks – defined as two more cases from a common source or location over a short period of time.

The wide geographic spread of these sporadic cases indicate drinking water system factors are involved, and the Alliance calls on public health officials to quickly and fully investigate the water that serves millions of people. The investigation should look comprehensively at recent conditions that could upset local water systems and water source changes that could affect the water’s chemistry and system dynamics. The Alliance encourages environmental testing of the public water distribution system as well as the homes of all individuals diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease.  Too often, sporadic cases are not fully investigated, and we miss critical opportunities to understand and properly identify the root causes behind how the disease developed to truly end the spike in cases and prevent others from getting sick.

The Michigan Department of Health did the right thing by quickly alerting the public to this concerning increase in cases. The Alliance welcomes the opportunity to support public awareness and education about the disease and its development, including offering our expertise in any investigation to prevent additional cases from development.

We must learn from the tragic lessons of Flint and act now to prioritize Michigan’s water quality and safety.”




The Alliance to Prevent Legionnaires’ Disease (APLD) is a national nonprofit organization formed to reduce cases of Legionnaires’ disease through education, holistic and systemic root cause solutions, and improving public policy by informing public officials about the science and investments needed to promote a more comprehensive, proactive approach to fighting waterborne disease.

Legionnaires’ disease draws national headlines with each outbreak, causing concern in communities with each case that results in death or serious illness. The Alliance to Prevent Legionnaires’ Disease created this brief toolkit of our best research and arguments to help you understand the basics of this waterborne disease and how to prevent it from developing and spreading.

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