State’s Chief Medical Executive Talks About Pneumonia Deaths in Flint

A recent Bridge Magazine report showed a significant increase in pneumonia cases during the Flint water crisis.

The Flint Water Plant water tower in Flint, Mich.

The Flint Water Plant water tower in Flint, Mich.

Matt Morley

Last week on Detroit Today we spoke with Bridge Magazine reporter Chastity Pratt Dawsey about the link between the Flint water crisis and a significant uptick in cases of Legionnaires Disease, some of them fatal.

Bridge also reported that since the water issues in Flint began, there has also been an increase in cases of pneumonia in general, many of which weren’t tested for Legionnaires.

Dr. Eden Wells is the chief medical executive for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

She tells Detroit Today host Stephen Henderson that pneumonia is an infection of the lungs, and can’t be attributed to just one cause.

“While there was an increase in pneumonia deaths in Genesee County in 2014 and 15… we also saw this increase in several other counties in the state,” says Wells. “What we notice is the increase in pneumonia deaths in Genesee County… actually was driven by people who lived outside of Flint.”

Wells says there is no doubt that there was a Legionnaires outbreak in Flint, and it is possible that some cases of Legionnaires were missed in patients with pneumonia. But, she says, many things cause pneumonia, and testing showed no cases of missed Legionella bacteria.

Dawsey says the question still remains how many people treated for pneumonia in Genesee County were treated at McLaren hospital in Flint, which she says is the “common denominator” for most of the Legionella cases, and 10 of 12 Legionnaires deaths.

In an email, Dawsey says:

“In 2016 they started testing pneumonia patients and looking at pneumonia patients’ results. That was two years after the death toll increased. Where was all this testing when people were dying in 2014, 2015? The same way nobody in the state responded to the Legionnaires deaths in 2014 and 2015, even though they knew the death toll was going up, nobody responded to the pneumonia deaths. Until 2016 – after it was too late. After McLaren cleaned up its water. Why aren’t the health officials looking at all those death records to see if McLaren is a common denominator for those pneumonia deaths? We (media) can’t do it because the records are not public (yes, I tried).”


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