Flint, Michigan: Shigellosis Outbreak Brings New Angle To Water Crisis

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Flint, Michigan is now battling Shigellosis after a water crisis and outbreaks of Legionnaires’ disease. This week, officials in Flint, Michigan confirmed what had long been suspected in the city. Many residents have been diagnosed with Shigellosis.

According to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS), there are 84 people, who have contracted Shigellosis, also known as bacillary dysentery or Marlow Syndrome. At least 27 individuals with the diarrheal disease have been taken to local hospitals.

Data showed that children are the ones mainly hit by the infectious disease. The youngest person with bacillary dysentery is a 17-month-old baby. Michigan Department of Health and Human Services said that 53 of the residents fighting Shigellosis are from the Flint city area. According to experts, Shigellosis mainly affects children, military personnel, and travelers. It is an illness “caused by infection by bacteria of the genus Shigella” that:

“is frequently found in water polluted with human feces, and is transmitted via the fecal-oral route. The usual mode of transmission is directly person-to-person hand-to-mouth, in the setting of poor hygiene among children. Shigella is one of the leading bacterial causes of diarrhea worldwide and is a top pathogen causing moderate-to-severe diarrhea in African and South Asian children.”

The same experts say that the illness is easily preventable by making sure that vaccination records are up to date. It should be said that there is no licensed vaccine targeting Shigella as yet. Moreover, washing hands and properly cooking meals are also helpful. Residents in that area are also advised to take extra sanitary precautions with foods such as dairy products, vegetables and salads, and meat.

Other simple precautions involve having a good personal hygiene and keeping infected children out of daycare and schools. The symptoms of Shigellosis include cramps, diarrhea, fever, blood, pus, or mucus in stools or tenesmus.

Many residents spoke to the media saying that since the Flint water crisis that was discovered in 2014, they have stopped using the water to cook and shower. Some of those people say they have faced serious health issues and are fearful of the water.

Delano Whidbee, who has two young girls, said he only uses baby wipes on his children. Another resident stated that he drives to his family’s home out of Flint for a daily shower. Jim Henry, Genesee County’s environmental health supervisor, added:

“People aren’t bathing because they’re scared. Some people have mentioned that they’re not going to expose their children to the water again.”

Marc Edwards, the Virginia Tech researcher, who put the spotlight on the Flint water crisis, explained:

“Hot water kills germs, but people are not running hot water through the filters, out of fear it will decrease the life of the filter, and it’s contributing to the spread of disease.”

Aware that it has failed the people of Flint, Michigan in the past, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has launched a “wash your hands” campaign to fight Shigellosis. Henry explained:

“During the time that MDHHS refused to communicate with us regarding Shigellosis, we had several more cases, which MDHHS knew about because they are reported. However, for weeks the state MDHHS stopped communicating and assisting [the county] regarding all disease investigations, including Shigellosis. This action directly compromised the safety and health of our communities.”

A spokeswoman for the MDHHS hit back by saying:

“It is entirely irresponsible … to attempt to portray MDHHS’s efforts regarding the Genesee County shigellosis situation as somehow lacking. MDHHS has been fully engaged in this effort.”

The recent developments in Flint might put more heat on local officials.

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