An outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in Minnesota has been traced to the local water supply, state health officials report.
The state suffered 134 cases and six deaths last year due to the outbreak, caused by a bacterial infection that damages people’s lungs and causes a severe form of pneumonia.
Now, in at least one northeastern Minnesota city, the outbreak has been traced to the area’s municipal water supply, which supplies water to more than 3,200 residents through their faucets and shower heads.
The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) confirmed that the 14 cases in Grand Rapids were caused by people exposing themselves to contaminated water, such as when washing their hands, showering and bathing, and brushing their teeth.
Legionnaires’ disease is a severe form of pneumonia caused by the Legionella bacteria.
Jessica Hancock-Allen, director of MDH’s Division of Infectious Disease Epidemiology, Prevention and Control, said, “We are taking this situation very seriously.”
“While most people exposed to Legionella bacteria do not develop Legionnaires’ disease, the best thing they can do if they experience symptoms of pneumonia, such as cough, shortness of breath, fever and headache, is to contact their healthcare provider. medical attention immediately.
“Most cases can be successfully treated with antibiotics, but prompt diagnosis and appropriate antibiotic treatment are important.”
MDH found that water samples from two unnamed Grand Rapids buildings were positive for Legionella and were very similar to those detected in the patients’ medical tests.
Tom Hogan, director of MDH’s Environmental Health Division, said, “We are working in partnership with the local water utility to determine the best way to address the situation.”
“Additional water sampling is planned and the results will be analyzed and used to inform further actions and communications.”
Legionnaires’ disease is a severe form of pneumonia caused by the Legionella bacteria, which is found in freshwater environments such as lakes and streams.
However, it can also grow in artificial water systems such as shower heads and faucets, hot tubs, decorative fountains, hot water tanks and heaters, and large plumbing systems that are not cleaned often enough, exposing them to bacteria.
According to the CDC, water containing Legionella can aerosolize or become droplets that people breathe.
And although it is less common, people can also drink water that contains the bacteria.
Legionnaires’ infections are not transmitted between people.
The CDC reports that most people exposed to Legionella do not get sick; However, some groups are more at risk for disease than others.
The agency estimates that between 8,000 and 10,000 cases are reported each year in the United States, although the true number is probably higher, since many cases go undiagnosed. About 15 of every 100 people who become infected are expected to die.
This includes people over 50, current or former smokers, people with chronic lung diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or emphysema, people with weakened immune systems, and people with underlying diseases such as diabetes or organ failure.
Symptoms usually appear between two and 14 days after exposure to the bacteria. According to the Mayo Clinic, early signs include headache, muscle pain, fever, and chills.
As the disease progresses, patients may experience coughing up blood, difficulty breathing, chest pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and confusion.
According to the CDC, Legionella bacteria grow in natural water supplies, but can be found in complex water systems.
Once diagnosed, legionnaires’ disease requires treatment with antibiotics.
Meanwhile, Pontiac fever is a milder infection than Legionnaires’ fever and causes fever and muscle aches. Symptoms usually appear within a few hours to three days after exposure to Legionella and last less than a week.
The disease usually goes away on its own.
Julie Kennedy, general manager of Grand Rapids Public Utilities, said the city plans to immediately wash and disinfect all areas of the water system and introduce a system to add more chlorine to the water, which would help disinfect it.
“We will provide local updates and notices to customers as that plan develops, as well as continuing to work with MDH and a team of experts to conduct a comprehensive evaluation of our water distribution system to determine the best long-term solution,” said.
The CDC recommends regularly cleaning all devices that use water, such as faucets and shower heads, as well as medical equipment such as CPAP machines.