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As weather warms, Flint residents warned of Legionnaires' risk

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The legionella bacter grows best in warm weather - especially in water systems that aren't properly maintained.

Flint residents are again being warned about the risk of Legionnaires’ disease, which increases as the weather warms up.

At least a dozen people died during an outbreak after the city started using Flint River water in 2014.

Usually Genesee County sees between 9 to 11 cases of Legionnaires’ in a year. But state officials say there were 91 cases of the disease during the summers of 2014-2015.

The Legionella bacteria causes a kind of pneumonia, and it’s riskier for people over 50 and anyone with a history of smoking or lung problems.

The bacteria grows best in big, warm water systems - especially if they're not properly maintained.  Still, state officials say they can’t definitively link the outbreak to the city’s water crisis.

So far this year, there haven’t been any reported cases of Legionnaires', says Mark Valacak, the director of the Genesee County Health Department.

"We're being very vigilant,” he says. “We're working with the hospital systems again to encourage them, if they see someone with the signs and symptoms of pneumonia, that they do a test for Legionella."

Valacak says residents experiencing pneumonia-like symptoms (including a fever, cough, difficulty breathing, chest pain or diarrhea) should get checked by their healthcare provider. 

Kate Wells is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently covering public health. She was a 2023 Pulitzer Prize finalist for her abortion coverage.
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