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Health chief: Ebola distracted from Genesee County Legionnaires' outbreak

A collage of the Flint River
Steve Carmody
Michigan Radio
Flint River (images on left), Flint Water Treatment Plant (images on right)

The state’s health director says an outbreak of Legionnaires' disease in Genesee County did not get the attention it deserved from his agency. He says it was partially due to the department’s focus on a different health threat that never materialized.

Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Director Nick Lyon was testifying before state lawmakers looking into the Flint water crisis. He said health officials were aware of the Legionnaires' outbreak and were trying to track down the cause. But he said the department was also distracted two years ago by preparations to deal with the Ebola virus.

“Certainly, we weren’t as aware as we could have been about the Legionella outbreak that was going on in Genesee County,” said Lyon. 

The Legionnaires' outbreak killed at least 12 people in 2014 and 15. There were 11 known cases of Ebola in the U.S., and two fatalities. None was in Michigan.

Officials appearing before the Joint Select Committee on the Flint Water Public Health Emergency told lawmakers that program to clean out the water system and help spread anti-corrosion chemicals is on track to begin May 1. It calls for Flint residents to run their water for several minutes a day.

Michigan Department of Environmental Quality Director Keith Creagh said he’s working with Flint Mayor Karen Weaver’s office to enlist Flint residents to cooperate with the effort.

“It will be very difficult to regain the trust and confidence of the people of Flint,” said Creagh. 

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.
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