In 2014, a pneumonia epidemic affected the city of Flint, Michigan, with 12 registered deaths and affecting approximately 90 other people. The source of the outbreak was later revealed to be the city’s groundwater, which was contaminated with the deadly bacteria known as Legionella pneumophila.
After the town changed its water supply to Flint River, in the context of a big water crisis, tap water was noticeably different in color and smell, which researchers later revealed was caused by a contamination with heavy metals. After a short while, increasing numbers of patients diagnosed with the Legionnaires’ disease began to be registered, with lethal cases being declared.
Experts in the study of Legionnaires’ disease explained that the affection has the exact symptoms of regular pneumonia, the difference being that it is caused by the bacteria that can be found in water. Therefore, it can enter a person’s system through droplets of water that are accidentally inhaled in various situations (sprinklers, choking, outdoor fountains etc.). In the case of weaker immune systems, the bacterium is known to cause deadly pneumonia.
While a yearly average number of 12 registered Legionella cases, during the city’s water crisis the number of people affected by the disease rose to 45, which was approximately four times higher than normal.
Initially, a connection between the high number of infected people and the water crisis was not identified. However, it was later revealed that, due to lower chlorine levels in the town’s new water supply system, the bacterium had the necessary conditions to replicate, thus leading to the deadly epidemic. As a result, authorities decided to return to the old water supply system, moment in which the epidemic ended.
At the moment, the water system in Flint is closely monitored and citizens are reassured that all the necessary measures have been taken in order to avoid the occurrence of such an unfortunate event in the future.