VA Tech Professor says Flint River water and Legionnaires' disease could be linked

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FLINT (WJRT) - (01/13/16) - Flint and Genesee County are seeing a disturbing spike in Legionnaires' disease, killing 10 people and adding more fear tonight about the water crisis.

The announcement was made Wednesday afternoon by Governor Rick Snyder and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services during a press conference in Detroit. Leaders revealed a shocking 87 cases since June 2014, about two months after Flint began drawing water from the Flint river.

"There are larger, more densely populated counties in the state that may have more cases. But this is definitely a spike," Dr. Eden Wells, Chief Medical Executive with the MDHHS said.

"We have not been able to identify a source. Less than half the cases that we found so far, have city of Flint water in their homes and then from there we looked at different health care facilities that they may have come in contact with. Not everyone was at the same health care facility in the city of Flint water. So, we haven't been able to identify that common environmental sources, between all of the cases," Angela Minicuci, spokesperson with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services said.

Last year, Virgina Tech Professor Marc Edwards first discovered elevated blood lead levels found in the Flint River water.

"It's very possible that, the conditions in the Flint River water contributed. We've actually predicted earlier this year, that the conditions present in Flint would increase the likelihood of Legionnaries Disease. We wrote a proposal on that to the National Science Foundation that was funded and we visited Flint and did two sampling events. The first one, which was focused on single family homes or smaller businesses. We did not find detectable levels of Legionella bacteria that causes disease, in those buildings. But, during our second trip, we looked at large buildings and we found very high levels of Legionella that tends to cause the disease," Virginia Tech Professor Marc Edwards said.

The state has only released an analysis of the first half of the cases. Of those, 27 are from Flint, six were reported in Mt. Morris, four in Burton and two in Flint Township.

The cities of Flushing, Byron, Davison, Linden, Otisville and Vienna Township each had one case.

Of these cases, less than half use Flint water as their primary drinking source, but more than half of them were exposed through a hospital or healthcare facility.

Others visited relatives or work in Flint, stayed at motels or shopped at grocery stores that used Flint water.

According to the state's study, the outbreak is over. March 2015 was the last time a case was reported.

The Department also says they're continuing to monitor and investigate the situation.

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