Five health officials have been charged with involuntary manslaughter during the investigation of the Flint water crisis.

They are accused of failing to be of use during the Genessee County Legionnaires’ disease outbreak. Out of 90 confirmed cases of the disease, 12 resulted in the death of the patient.

Nick Lyon
Michigan’s health department Nick Lyon. Image credit: Alex Wong/ Getty Images.

The costly negligence of state health officials

The accused include Nick Lyon, from Michigan’s health department, and Chief Medical Executive Dr. Eden Wells. According to court records, Lyon decided not to inform the people of Flint, Michigan, about the impending outbreak of Legionnaire’s disease.

Apparently, he knew about the epidemic before most state government officials but explained that he was waiting for the Health and Human Services Department to investigate the matter. Despite his arguments, allegations include that Lyon actively tried to close the investigation that would allow academics to study the Flint River to see if it was causing the epidemic.

Legionella bacteria
Legionella bacteria. Image credit: iStock.

Dr. Wells, on the other hand, is accused of obstruction of justice. Both Lyon and Wells were the chiefs charged with handling the Flint water crisis.

The first public announcement of the disease’s outbreak was made by Michigan Governor Rick Snyder during a press conference on January 13th, two days after knowing about the outbreak.

Researchers are confident that the Flint River is the cause of the Legionnaire’s disease outbreak, mainly because it is used as the municipal water source.

The problem originated in 2014 when the city started using river water without properly filtering it. Scientists from different universities assure that the Flint River ate away the city pipes, mixing the water with iron and rust, which help the Legionella bacteria to thrive. Additionally, because the Flint River is warmer than the city’s first source of water, the river served as an ideal incubator for the deadly bacteria.

In 2015, the water system was switched back to Detroit’s city water. Studies have shown that the water started to recover and become clean once more, although researchers say that it is still not safe to drink the water without a filter.

“Based on the pattern of the cases of Legionnaires’ disease occurring right after the switch, and then disappearing after the change back to the Detroit water source, plus based on what I know about the microbiology of Legionnaires’ disease, I have said all along that they’re linked. There’s no question that they’re related,” stated Dr. Janet Stout from the University of Pittsburgh, who has worked treating Legionnaire’s disease outbreaks.

The Legionella bacteria causes Legionnaires’ disease. Its symptoms include pneumonia, fever, headaches, diarrhea, and nausea. Clear signs appear two days after exposure to the bacteria. Legionella can also cause Pontiac fever, which is characterized by muscle aches and fever. Both conditions can be diagnosed by analyzing urine or phlegm samples. Treatment comes mostly in the form of antibiotics, but in most cases, the patient needs to be taken to the hospital, as the disease can complicate rapidly. One out of every ten patients that contract Legionnaire’s disease die due to complications.

Source: Detroit News