Health Chief: Ebola Distracted from Genessee County Legionnaire’s Outbreak

The state’s focus on the threat from Ebola overshadowed new cases of Legionnaire’s disease in Genesee County.

The state’s health director says an outbreak of Legionnaire’s 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 Legionnaire’s 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 Legionnaire’s outbreak killed at least 12 people in 2014 and 15. There were 11 known cases of Ebola in the US and two fatalities. None were 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 Creigh 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 Creigh.