Source of Legionnaires’ disease outbreak in Grand Rapids identified

The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) says that areas of the municipal water system are the cause of an ongoing Legionnaires’ disease outbreak in Grand Rapids.

The outbreak has been clustered in homes and buildings in specific geographic areas, MDH says. So far, 14 people have contracted the disease since April 2023 and 11 people have been hospitalized, but no one has died yet.

Laboratory and epidemiologic data helped authorities determine that source, which MDH has been trying to figure out since the first case was reported.

Officials say that water samples from two buildings in the community tested positive for Legionella and the Legionella bacteria and the samples were related to the respiratory samples from people who had tested positive for the disease.

Legionnaires’ disease is a serious type of pneumonia that people can contract by inhaling Legionella bacteria in water. MDH said that people in this outbreak likely were exposed to it from water mist, including showers and faucets in buildings.

MDH says that it is working closely with the water utility in Grand Rapids to remedy the water to safe levels. The water there is not chlorinated due to the water source not requiring added disinfectants.

“Our immediate focus is developing the provisional plan to flush and disinfect areas of our water system, aiming to reduce the risk of Legionella. Installing a chlorination system is being looked into, but introducing chlorination to a previously unchlorinated system is a complex process, so our approach needs to be methodical to ensure we avoid any additional health, safety or distribution system complications,” said Julie Kennedy, Grand Rapids Public Utilities general manager.

Legionnaires’ disease cannot be spread from person to person or from drinking infected water. It is a serious illness and can be fatal. Symptoms include fever, chills, cough, shortness of breath, headaches, muscle aches, fatigue, weakness, loss of appetite, confusion, diarrhea and nausea.