Breaking Down the Risk of Legionnaires' Disease

Posted at 4:04 PM, Jan 23, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-23 16:04:23-05

You have seen the headlines - "Nine Dead in Genessee County from Legionnaires' Disease."

Old pipes, pipes with stagnant water, and warm water are all factors that help Legionella, the bacteria that causes the disease, to grow, says Joan Rose, and Michigan State University Professor of Water Quality and Public Health.

"Legionella can commonly be found in water systems, and what we worry about is the specific type of Legionella, Legionella pneumofila, and if it's growing to high concentrations," Rose said. You can't get the disease by drinking the bacteria. If the water becomes steam, like in a shower or through an air conditioner, then the bacteria can be inhaled, and that's when it is dangerous.

"If you're sensitive, the elderly and people who have pre-conditions, you are more susceptible to getting Legionnaires disease," Rose said.

Symptoms of Legionnaires are like a mild flu, with a cough, fever and body aches, says Angela Minicuci of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. Most people can get over the disease on their own, but if you're not getting better with rest, Minicuci says see a doctor.

There aren't really filters you can buy to get the bacteria out of the water, but Rose says keeping your water heater at 130 degrees Fahrenheit.

"Anytime it's found, the course of action is to disinfect those pipes and clean it out," Rose said.

MDHHS says there has not been an increase in cases of Legionnaires' disease in Ingham County, just Genessee. But if you're concerned, or someone more susceptible to the disease because you have a weakened immune system, Mincuci says washing your hands diligently can help protect you.