Water Crisis Causes Bacterial Disease to Spread Through Flint
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), every year, one out of every six Americans becomes ill by consuming contaminated foods or beverages. So far this year, just in Genesee County, Michigan, there have been 85 cases of shigellosis, a foodborne disease caused by the Shigella bacteria. Half of these cases have occurred in Flint.
Flint is a struggling rural area that is still suffering from the lead poisoning of its water supply back in 2014. Health officials believe that the water crisis indirectly caused the shigellosis outbreak, as residents have limited their exposure to water altogether, thus neglecting their personal hygiene.
“People aren’t bathing because they’re scared,” said Jim Henry, Genesee County’s environmental health supervisor. “Some people have mentioned that they’re not going to expose their children to the water again.”
Unbeknownst to them, the very same hygiene supplements Flint residents have been using to avoid contaminated water may be increasing their risk of developing the illness. Instead of washing their hands, many people are relying on baby wipes to rid their skin of bacteria. Unfortunately, the unchlorinated wipes don’t kill the Shigella bacteria, so they are lacking the protection they need.
There are typically about 500,000 cases of shigellosis each year, according to the CDC. It is a form of dysentery, causing acute inflammation in the intestines. Patients suffer painful cramps and bloody diarrhea for about a week, and while it is rarely fatal among people in the developed world, it is highly contagious. It is most dangerous for the young and old as well as others with weaker immune systems.
Unfortunately, Flint residents feel that they have been neglected by government agencies, saying that there has not been enough communication or involvement on the part of state health officials.
Without much help from the state of Michigan, the Genesee County Health Department has launched a public health campaign to encourage Flint residents to start washing their hands again.