Infectious control experts are looking into possible cases of legionnaires’ disease at two Mid-Michigan hospitals.
The development comes more than a month after the state linked two cases to one of the hospitals - a link the hospital has disputed.
Since 2014, Genesee County has had 155 diagnosed cases of legionnaires’ disease. The state has just confirmed they are looking into more cases of legionnaires’ disease at Hurley and McLaren Hospital in Flint.
In a statement released by McLaren earlier this month, they said in part, “Our physicians recently diagnosed the illness in one of our patients. Because this patient spent nine days in our hospital prior to the onset of symptoms, we cannot eliminate the possibility that the patient contracted the illness while at our facility.”
However, experts say the disease can only be contracted a certain way.
“We only get it from contaminated water or soil that’s thrown into the air,” said Michele Swanson, professor of microbiology and immunology at the University of Michigan.
Swanson said legionnaires’ disease cannot be passed on through direct contact.
She explained surfaces like showers, water fountains, and even air cooling systems can all be areas for legionella bacteria to cultivate and grow.
“It’s not unusual to have cases at hospitals because number one, this bacteria doesn’t typically cause disease in otherwise healthy people. But if you’re already sick and in the hospital, you’re a more vulnerable person. But also, the water system in hospitals – with their many different rooms and patients’ beds – are much more complicated. And it is a more favorable environment to get stagnant water where legionella can bloom,” Swanson said.
To prevent this, Swanson said hospitals must perform continual maintenance over their water supply through steady water flow, super heating and the addition of chlorine.
Those processes take time and thorough inspection, which is why Swanson recommends the state or federal government oversee these operations moving forward.
“By asking the CDC to come in, you reduce that conflict of interest that comes from a hospital being in charge of their own water supply. And you get experts that come in and really understand if the water system is out of balance and needs attention,” Swanson said.
TV5 reached out to Hurley Medical Center but they could not be reached for comment at this time.