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Grand Rapids Legionnaires’ outbreak linked to municipal water supply – InForum

Grand Rapids Legionnaires’ outbreak linked to municipal water supply – InForum

GRAND RAPIDS, Minn. — Fourteen cases of Legionnaires’ disease have been linked to the municipal water system in Grand Rapids, Minn., according to the Minnesota Department of Health.

A type of lung infection, the disease is caused by inhaling water droplets containing Legionella bacteria. The illness itself is a type of pneumonia, causing symptoms such as fever, chills, cough, shortness of breath, headaches and fatigue.

Cases of the disease were first reported in Grand Rapids in April 2023, reaching a total of 14. Of these cases, 11 have required hospitalization though no deaths have occurred to date.

MDH has been investigating the source of the outbreak and has recently determined that the municipal water supply in Grand Rapids was the only common exposure reported by those who became ill.

Additional evidence supporting this link came when water samples from two buildings in the community tested positive for Legionella bacteria, with the specific variety present closely related to samples taken from the patients.

“We are taking this situation very seriously,” said Jessica Hancock-Allen, MDH’s director of Infectious Disease Epidemiology, Prevention and Control. “While most people exposed to Legionella bacteria do not develop Legionnaires’ disease, the best thing to do if you experience symptoms of pneumonia is contact your health care provider right away.”

MDH plans to continue working in partnership with the local water utility to determine how to best address the situation. Grand Rapids Public Utilities is in the process of developing a plan to flush and disinfect the water system to reduce the risk of Legionella.

“Our approach needs to be methodical to ensure we avoid any additional health, safety or distribution system complications,” said Julie Kennedy, general manager of Grand Rapids Public Utilities. “We will be providing local updates and customer notices as that plan develops along with continuing to work with MDH.”

Common sources of exposure to Legionella bacteria include devices that create water mist, including hot tubs, showers and some medical equipment. Legionnaires’ disease is not spread from person to person and infections do not result from drinking water.

While most individuals exposed to the bacteria do not develop Legionnaires’ disease, people at higher risk of developing the illness include those over the age of 50, current and former smokers and others with chronic health conditions or weakened immune systems.

MDH outlined practices that residents can take to help reduce the risk of waterborne illnesses, including Legionella infection:

  • Regularly clean all devices that use water to remove dirt, debris, germs and other impurities.
  • Always follow the manufacturer’s recommendations regarding using, cleaning and maintaining your water-related devices.
  • Maintain in-home medical equipment. If using medical equipment that requires water for use, such as CPAP or BiPAP machines or Neti Pots, only distilled water should be used. Devices should be cleaned regularly, per the manufacturer’s recommendations.
  • Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for cleaning and drying your portable humidifier. Use distilled or boiled (and then cooled) water or water disinfected with chlorine bleach in portable humidifiers.
  • Clean showerheads and faucet aerators whenever you can see buildup to help prevent germs from growing within the faucet. You may need to remove the showerheads and hose and soak them in a solution (such as white vinegar) to remove buildup. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for cleaning.
  • Keep your water heater set to a minimum of 120 degrees Fahrenheit. A water temperature of 130 to 140 degrees can kill many harmful germs but also increases the risk of scalding. If you set the temperature above 120 degrees take extra precautions to mix cold and hot water (using thermostatic valves) at the faucet or shower to avoid scalding. This is especially important if young children, older adults, or other people at increased risk of scalding live in your home.

More information on

preventing waterborne germs at home

can be found on the CDC’s website.

Updates from the city can be found on the

Grand Rapids Public Utility’s Legionella Mitigation, Updates, and Information

website. More information about Legionnaire’s disease can be found on MDH’s


website and on CDC’s



Nicole Ronchetti is a reporter at the Bemidji Pioneer, focusing on local government and community health.