Health Check: Legionnaire's disease uptick in Detroit

A record number of people in the Detroit area have contracted Legionnaire's disease this summer. State officials said 35 cases were reported in June.

"It's a concern because this is a disease that we see now in the summer, and the reason we see it in the summer and not the winter is because it actually grows in water systems," said Dr. Jose Vazquez, an infectious disease specialist.

In 2010, seven civilian workers were sickened at Selfridge Air National Guard Base, north of Detroit. A water cooling tower was found to be the source of the infections.

"Frequently, they have been tracked to one water system. So, it's very, very important and I know the Michigan Department of Community Health is tracking these patients," Vazquez said.

Anyone possibly infected is being interviewed using a questionnaire asking about malls or casinos they might have visited or even exposure to spas, saunas or fountains. It's all in an effort to track the source as quickly as possible.

Vazquez described the people at greatest risk.

"Patients that have cancer, that have gotten chemotherapy, that are on prednisone, above the age of 65 are at much higher risk of developing the disease," Vazquez said.

He also described symptoms that should prompt medical attention.

"If I feel like I have a cough, fever -- really high fever -- chest pain. I'm tired and run down and it's persisting for more than one or two days and getting worse. It also affects the GI tract. So, I would be very concerned if a person came to me and had pneumonia and they were complaining about diarrhea," Vazquez said.

Legionnaires' disease is caused by bacteria not a virus, so it is treatable with antibiotics. The key is early identification.

This is an especially serious disease because the death rate can approach one in three affected individuals.