Deadly Legionnaires’ disease in Minnesota that killed six and sickened 134 may have infected people via their SHOWERS or taps – as outbreak is linked back to contaminated water systems

Photo of author
Written By Rivera Claudia

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet consectetur pulvinar ligula augue quis venenatis. 

  • An outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in Minnesota was linked to city utilities
  • This led to 14 cases, though the state reported 134 total cases last year 
  • READ MORE: Chef, 29, dies from FUNGAL infection that ‘ate holes in his lungs’

An outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in Minnesota has been traced back to the local water supply, state health officials report. 

The state suffered 134 cases and six deaths last year in the outbreak, which is caused by a bacterial infection that damages people’s lungs and causes a severe form of pneumonia.

Now, in at least one city in northeastern Minnesota, the outbreak has been traced to the area’s municipal water supply, which provides water to more than 3,200 residents through their faucets and showerheads.

The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) confirmed that the 14 cases in Grand Rapids was caused by people being exposed to contaminated water, such as by washing hands, taking showers and baths, and brushing their teeth.

The Minnesota Department of Health confirmed that 14 cases of Legionnaires’ disease were linked to the city water supply in Grand Rapids, Minnesota. The state reported a total of 134 cases and six deaths last year

Legionnaires' disease is a severe form of pneumonia caused by the bacteria Legionella

Legionnaires’ disease is a severe form of pneumonia caused by the bacteria Legionella

Jessica Hancock-Allen, director of the MDH Infectious Disease Epidemiology, Prevention, and Control Division, said: ‘We are taking this situation very seriously.’

‘While most people exposed to Legionella bacteria do not develop Legionnaires’ disease, the best thing to do if you experience symptoms of pneumonia – such as cough, shortness of breath, fever, and headache – is contact your health care provider right away.’

‘Most cases can be successfully treated with antibiotics, but prompt diagnosis and appropriate antibiotic treatment is important.’ 

MDH found that water samples from two unnamed Grand Rapids buildings were positive for Legionella and were highly similar to those detected in the patients’ medical tests. 

Tom Hogan, director of MDH’s Environmental Health Division, said: ‘We are working in partnership with the local water utility to determine the best way to address the situation.’

‘Additional water sampling is planned, and the results will be analyzed and used to inform additional actions and communication.’

Legionnaires’ disease is a severe form of pneumonia caused by the bacteria Legionella, which is found in freshwater environments like lakes and streams. 

However, it can also grow in human-made water systems like showerheads and faucets, hot tubs, decorative fountains, hot water tanks and heaters, and large plumbing systems that are not cleaned often enough, exposing them to bacteria.

According to the CDC, water containing Legionella can aerosolize, or turn into droplets that people breathe in. 

And though it’s less common, people can also drink water containing the bacteria. 

Legionnaires’ is not spread between people. 

MDH said in its announcement: ‘In this outbreak, it appears the most likely source of exposure was water mist from fixtures in buildings such as showers or faucets.’

The CDC reports that most people exposed to Legionella don’t get sick, however some groups are more at risk of disease than others. 

The agency estimates that 8,000 to 10,000 cases are reported every year in the US, though the true number is likely higher, as many cases go undiagnosed. Roughly 15 out of 100 people who get the infection are expected to die. 

This includes people over age 50, current or former smokers, people with chronic lung diseases like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or emphysema, those with weakened immune systems, and people with underlying diseases like diabetes or organ failure.

Symptoms usually develop between two and 14 days after exposure to the bacteria. According to the Mayo Clinic, early signs include headache, muscle pain, and fever and chills.

As the disease progresses, patients may experience coughing up blood, breathlessness, chest pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and confusion. 

According to the CDC, Legionella bacteria grows in natural water supplies but can be found in complex water systems

According to the CDC, Legionella bacteria grows in natural water supplies but can be found in complex water systems

Once diagnosed, Legionnaires’ requires treatment with antibiotics. 

Pontiac fever, meanwhile, is as milder infection than Legionnaires’ that leads to fever and muscle aches. Symptoms typically occur within a few hours to three days after exposure to Legionella and last less than a week. 

The disease usually goes away on its own. 

Julie Kennedy, general manager of Grand Rapids Public Utilities, said that the immediate city plans to flush and disinfect all areas of the water system and introduce a system to add more chlorine to water, which would help disinfect it. 

‘We will be providing local updates and customer notices as that plan develops along with continuing to work with MDH and a team of experts to conduct a thorough assessment of our water distribution system to determine the best long-term solution,’ she said. 

The CDC recommends regularly cleaning all devices that use water, such as faucets and showerheads, as well as medical equipment such as CPAP machines.  


Legionnaires’ disease is a severe form of pneumonia that causes lung inflammation.

It is caused by a bacterium, known as Legionella.

Around 500 people in the UK and 6,100 in the US suffer every year.

The condition can cause life-threatening complications, including respiratory failure, kidney failure and septic shock, which occurs when blood flow to the vital organs is blocked.

Most sufferers become ill by inhaling tiny water droplets from infected sources, such as shower heads, hot tubs, swimming pools or ventilation systems in buildings.

Anyone can become infected, however, at-risk people include the elderly, smokers and those with suppressed immune systems, such as chemotherapy patients.

Symptoms usually develop between two and 10 days after exposure to the bacteria.

Early signs include:

  • Headache
  • Muscle Pain
  • Fever and chills 

People may then experience:

  • Cough, which may bring up blood
  • Breathlessness
  • Chest pain
  • Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
  • Confusion 

Treatment is antibiotics, usually in hospital, as soon as possible.

Prevention involves meticulous cleaning and disinfection of water systems.

People can reduce their risk by not smoking as this damages the lungs and makes individuals more susceptible.

Source: Mayo Clinic

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)


Leave a Comment