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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

UIC: New Research Investigates Legionnaires Outbreak in Flint

In 2017, the State of Michigan asked KWR, a Dutch clean water research institute, to investigate the epidemic of Legionnaires’ Disease in Genesee County, Michigan in 2014 and 2015.  The University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health’s Dr. Samuel Dorevitch, professor of environmental and occupational health sciences, was asked to join the research team.

Legionnaires’ disease is a severe kind of pneumonia (lung infection) caused by the bacteria Legionella pneumophila. These bacteria can grow in warm water systems and become airborne in showers, cooling towers, and air conditioning systems. People typically catch it by breathing in air with tiny water droplets (called aerosols) that contain the Legionnaires’ disease bacteria.

An outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease occurred in 2014-2015 among people who lived in Genesee County, Michigan, which includes the City of Flint. A total of 86 residents of Genesee County developed Legionnaires’ disease. Most of the people who developed Legionnaires’ were age 65 or older and had a chronic health condition.  The research team found evidence for three sources: strong evidence for exposure to a Flint hospital in 2014 and 2015, and weaker evidence for exposure to City of Flint water at home or living in the proximity of a specific cluster of cooling towers, both only in 2014. The research is published in the scientific journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

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