Michigan State University

CDC finds first genetic link between Legionnaires' outbreak, Flint water

Jon Harrison

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has discovered the first genetic links between city water and patients diagnosed with Legionnaires' disease in Genesee County -- something researchers have sought throughout the Flint water crisis.

While the state has focused on McLaren since the genetic links were found, other experts say the three matches, including one victim who was never a patient at McLaren, suggest that Legionella thrived throughout the Flint water system, making it the real culprit in Legionnaires' deaths and illnesses in 2014 and 2015.

Seventy-eight people in the county contracted the disease during those two years, during parts of which the city used the Flint River as its source of water without treating it to make it less corrosive to lead pipes and plumbing.

"The presence of Legionella in Flint was widespread," said Dr. Janet Stout, a research associate professor at the University of Pittsburgh and a national expert on the disease. "The (laboratory) results show that strains (of the bacteria) were throughout the water system."

Stout was hired by McLaren to assist the hospital in defending itself against a $100-million lawsuit and against state claims that its failings caused what the state calls the "largest healthcare-associated Legionnaires' outbreak known" in the United States.

Amy Pruden, a Virginia Tech university professor and one of five authors of a July 2016 peer-reviewed study on Legionella in Flint water, said the three genetic matches could represent how widespread the bacteria was in city water.

For the full article, see Ron Fonger, "CDC finds first genetic link between Legionnaires' outbreak, Flint water", MLive, February 16, 2017.

For a related article, see Ron Fonger, "Public never told, but investigators suspected Flint River tie to Legionnaires' in 2014", MLive, February 16, 2017.


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