The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines Shigellosis as an infectious disease caused by Shigella bacteria and is believed to be spread by unwashed hands.
A Shigella outbreak in Flint, MI could possibly be linked to the city’s water crisis that dates back to the spring of 2014 when Flint ceased sourcing water from Lake Huron and Detroit River to the Flint River--a water source that officials say had failed to apply corrosion inhibitors. The new water source, and its rotting pipes, has caused a 2 year headache for the city, primarily a public health crisis due to lead contamination. Flint residents have suffered everything from hair loss to severe skin breakouts. Residents have been using both bottled and filtered water while the water crisis continues.
This is where Shigellosis comes in.
Due to fear of the side effects from using the contaminated water, residents are bathing and washing their hands less frequently than usual. Even with filtered water, residents are afraid that running hot water will shorten the life of their filters. Instead, residents have increasingly opted to just not use running water for anything.
According to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, Genesee County (where Flint is located) now has more Shigellosis cases than any other county in the state. Out of 84 cases in the county this year, 53 of them are in Flint. The number of cases in Genesee County suddenly spiked in June 2016.
Neighboring Saginaw County has the second-highest number of cases, likely because many of the county’s residents commute to Flint for work.
A statement from Dr. Gary Johnson, medical director at the Genesee County Health Department, alludes that Flint’s water issues may not be the reason for the Shigella outbreak. “We don’t know the exact reason” for the recent spike in cases. “There isn’t a particular reason why.”
To help combat the outbreak, Genesee County has been promoting a new campaign that urges proper and consistent handwashing.