Michigan’s Legionnaires’ death toll rises to 10

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(March 19, 2016) — The death toll in one of the worst outbreaks of Legionnaires’ disease in U.S. history has risen to 10, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

Officials had previously said 88 people got Legionnaires’ and nine died. But the number of fatalities rose Friday to include a person who did not reside in Genesee County but had been hospitalized there during the outbreak, said Eden Wells, chief medical executive with the MDHHS.

Legionnaires’ disease is a respiratory bacterial infection usually spread through mist that comes from a water source.

The outbreak occurred after Flint officials switched the source of the local water supply to the Flint River. There has been no confirmed link between the outbreak and the switch in water supply.

“Of the 88 total confirmed cases between June 2014 and November 2015, 31 people, or 35%, received city of Flint water to their residence,” the press release said. “A total of 26 people, or 30%, had no known exposure to a Flint hospital in the two weeks prior to illness, nor were their homes on the Flint water system. Other possible exposures were evaluated and no known community or residential exposures have been identified.”

Genesee County Health Director Jim Henry said in February he believes deaths could have been prevented, but the health department could not get help from the state of Michigan or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to find the source of the disease.

Henry, who was a supervisor at the time of the outbreak, said state officials purposely kept the CDC away once the county wanted to look at the highly corrosive Flint River as the Legionnaires’ uptick began.

The state ordered the city to switch its water supply from Lake Huron to the Flint River as a money-saving measure.

After high levels of iron and lead were found in the water, authorities realized they had a crisis on their hands.

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