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Cases of Legionnaires' disease spike in Michigan

Legionella pneumophila
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

There’s been a significant increase in the number of Legionnaires' disease cases in Michigan.

In the first two weeks of July, the state saw more than 100 cases – over 60% of them happening in Wayne, Oakland, and Macomb counties.

Over the same period last summer, only 16 cases were reported.State health department spokesperson Lynn Sutfin said the bacteria that cause the disease are ever-present in nature.

“Legionella bacteria, it's found naturally in freshwater lakes and streams. However, it can also be found in the manmade water systems. So we're talking your potable water systems, cooling towers, whirlpool spas and decorative fountains,” she said.

Sutfin said reactivating some of those air conditioning systems and reopening buildings shuttered due to the pandemic could be causing the outbreak.

"We also know that many buildings are currently reopening after being closed for an extended period of time during the pandemic. So this can also create that environment for that potential growth and amplification of the bacteria,” Sutfin said.

She said recent heavy rains and hot weather can also add to the growth of the bacteria.

Those at higher risk of getting sick are smokers over 50 and people with compromised immune systems. Symptoms of Legionnaires' disease include cough, fever, muscle aches and headaches. The symptoms usually appear within the first ten days after exposure.

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