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January 13, 2016: Legionnaires’ Outbreak Potentially Linked to Flint Water Crisis

After tens of thousands of residents of Flint, MI, were exposed to dangerous levels of lead through their drinking water, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder announced that the number of cases of Legionnaires’ disease had also increased above average.

(U.S. National Guard photos by Staff Sgt. Thomas Vega)

MI National Guard members distribute water to residents of Flint. (U.S. National Guard photos by Staff Sgt. Thomas Vega)

The Flint Water Crisis

In an effort to balance the town’s budget, the state changed Flint’s water source from Lake Huron to the Flint River. After Flint citizens’ unanswered appeals to the government to test the safety of the brown water coming from their taps, independent researchers from Virginia Tech found the water contained high amounts of lead. Upon this discovery, the state faced serious public scrutiny, and citizens of Flint faced serious potential health problems from exposure to the tainted water.

Increase of Legionnaires’ Cases

According to Michigan health officials, the bump in Legionnaires’ disease cases have occurred in Genessee County, the county containing Flint, over the past two years. There have been 45 confirmed cases of Legionnaires’ disease from June 2014 to March 2015; just 21 cases of Legionnaires’ disease were reported in all of 2012 and 2013.

The water from the Flint River may have been the source of this increased amount of cases. Forty-seven percent of these cases occurred in people whose homes received water from the Flint River. Forty-two perecnt of people who later suffered from Legionnaires’ disease had been previously admitted to hospitals in Flint.

Legionnaires’ Disease Information

Legionnaires’ disease is a type of pneumonia caused by bacteria that infect the lungs.
Legionella bacteria are found naturally in the environment. The bacteria grow well in warm water. An individual can become infected with Legionella by breathing in aerosolized contaminated water. The infection is not transmitted from person to person. Legionella outbreaks can be prevented by keeping the bacteria out of the water through proper equipment maintenance and testing.

Water Quality and Legionnaires’

Janet Stout, a Pittsburgh microbiologist and Legionella expert who was brought in to advise a Flint hospital on the outbreak, said that the “change in (Flint) water quality was a likely factor in causing the increase in Legionnaires’ disease”.

While several experts suggested that the Legionnaires’ disease outbreak in Flint was a direct result of the poor water filtering by the Michigan government, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) “cannot conclude that the increase is related to the water emergency in Flint,” but did concede that the state is “concerned about the increase in cases seen in Genesee County” of Legionnaires’ disease.


The Weinberg Law Firm is currently assisting those injured by infections related to environmental contamination, including Legionnaires’ disease outbreaks. For a free Legionnaires’ disease lawsuit evaluation, contact our law firm toll free at 1-877-934-6274. You can also contact our lawyers by submitting the online “Free Legal Evaluation Form” found on this page.

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