A Wayne State University (WSU) employee was diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease, and university officials said they will respond by conducting water tests, according to news reports.

WSU is a public research university located in Detroit, with more than 27,000 graduate and undergraduate students.

The employee, who works in the faculty administration building, is under the care of a doctor, according to a letter written by Michael Wright, WSU’s chief of staff.

“While it is very unlikely that this person contracted the disease from a campus source,” Wright wrote, “through an abundance of caution we will check the building for a potential source.”

The water tests will be performed to see if Legionella bacteria is present in the system. Legionella is the bacteria that causes Legionnaires’ disease.

The university also plans to review the building’s heating and cooling system to see if additional actions are required.

Students, employees or visitors to the administration building who have recently suffered from or are currently suffering from pneumonia- or flu-like symptoms (see below) should seek immediate medical attention from their health-care provider.

For updates on the university’s investigation, visit http://go.wayne.edu/fab-health.

WSU prof leads Flint investigation
Coincidentally, Shawn McElmurry, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at WSU, is heading a team of researchers that has been investigating the 2016 Legionnaires’ outbreak in Flint, MI. The Flint water crisis, which occurred in 2014-15, resulted in 12 deaths and more than 90 people contracting Legionnaires’ disease.

McElmurry’s team consists of Flint residents, WSU students, and students from other universities. The team is receiving funding from the state of Michigan but is working independently. The team expects to have a significant portion of research completed by the end of the year.

Legionnaires’ information

Legionnaires’ disease – also known as legionellosis and Legionella pneumonia – is similar to other types of pneumonia, which is an infection of the air sacs in one or both lungs that might produce fluid in the lungs. Symptoms can resemble flu-like symptoms in the following forms:

  • coughing
  • difficulty breathing
  • high fever
  • muscle aches and pains
  • headaches
  • gastrointestinal symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Who is most at risk?
Anyone can get Legionnaires’ disease, but people most susceptible to infection include:

  • people 50 years of age or older
  • smokers, current and former
  • heavy drinkers of alcoholic beverages
  • people with chronic lung disease
  • people with compromised immune systems
  • recipients of organ transplants
  • individuals who are on specific drug protocols (corticosteroids, to name one).

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 25,000 cases of pneumonia due to Legionella bacteria (Legionella pneumophila) occur each year, but only 5,000 cases are reported because of its nonspecific signs and symptoms. Ten percent of those who become infected with Legionnaires’ disease will die from the infection.

How does one become ill?
Legionella bacteria are contracted by inhaling microscopic water droplets, usually in the form of mist or vapor. The bacteria, which grow best in warm water, are found primarily in human-made environments.

Outbreaks have been linked to a number of sources, such as:

  • hot water tanks and heaters
  • showers and faucets
  • swimming pools
  • hot tubs and whirlpools
  • equipment used in physical therapy
  • mist machines and hand-held sprayers
  • the cooling towers of air conditioning systems
  • large plumbing systems
  • water systems such as those used in hospitals, nursing homes, and hotels
  • decorative fountains.

People also can contract Legionnaires’ disease when they “aspirate” contaminated drinking water – that is, choking or coughing while drinking can cause water to go down the wrong pipe into the lungs. That, however, is a very rare occurrence.