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An employee of Wayne State University (WSU) has been 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. The university has 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.”

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

University officials said they also plan to review the building’s heating and cooling system to see if additional actions are required.

Students, employees or visitors to the faculty 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.

Wayne State University

A Wayne State University employee has been diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease.

Wayne State University
prof leads Flint investigation

Coincidentally, Shawn McElmurry, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at WSU, has been heading a team of researchers investigating the 2016 Legionnaires’ disease outbreak in Flint, MI.

The Flint water crisis, which began in 2014, resulted in the deaths of 12 residents. More than 90 people became ill with Legionnaires’ disease.

McElmurry’s team is made up of Flint residents, Wayne State students, as well as students from other state universities. The team is receiving funding from the state of Michigan but is working independently.

Team members said they expect to have a significant portion of research completed by the end of the year.

Wayne State University:
Legionnaires’ information

Legionnaires’ disease – which is also called legionellosis and Legionella pneumonia – is similar to other types of pneumonia (an infection of the air sacs in one or both lungs that might produce fluid in the lungs).

Symptoms, which can resemble flu-like symptoms, are numerous and can include:

  • cough
  • shortness of breath
  • fever
  • muscle aches
  • severe headaches
  • gastrointestinal symptoms (nausea, vomiting, diarrhea).

High-risk categories
Anyone can become ill with Legionnaires’ disease, but those most susceptible to contracting the infection include:

  • people 50 or older
  • smokers, both current and former
  • heavy drinkers of alcohol
  • people with chronic lung disease
  • people with weakened immune systems
  • patients who have received an organ transplant
  • anyone on a specific drug protocol (such as corticosteroids).

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

Mist and vapor
Legionella bacteria (Legionella pneumophila) are contracted by inhaling microscopic water droplets, usually mist or vapor. The bacteria, which grow best in warm-water situations, are found primarily in human-made environments.

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

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

Legionnaires’ disease also can be contracted when one “aspirates” contaminated water while drinking. That is, choking or coughing while drinking can cause water to go down the wrong pipe into the lungs. That occurs very rarely.