Roosevelt Institute | Cornell University

Another Crisis in Flint, Michigan

By Andjela CirkoPublished October 27, 2016

The town of Flint, Michigan, is now dealing with another health concern- shigellosis. The bacterial disease causes bloody diarrhea, abdominal pain, and fever. With a bacteria that spreads rapidly and is highly contagious, and residents are hesitant to trust their governments, addressing this crisis will pose yet another monumental challenge for the people of Flint.

The town of Flint, Michigan, is now dealing with another health concern- shigellosis. The bacterial disease causes bloody diarrhea, abdominal pain, and fever. Shigellosis is spread through contact with fecal matter, so it spreads from person to person when people don’t wash their hands and then come into contact with food or surfaces that have been contaminated.

Flint, Michigan is experiencing the outbreak because residents are still afraid and mistrustful of the water they are
receiving in their homes. Because of damaged water pipes from the previous lead-contaminated water outbreak in 2014, Flint residents are using filtered or bottled water to receive their supply. This can be costly, however, so many residents resort to baby wipes for washing their hands. The problem with this is that baby wipes don’t kill bacteria, and aren’t as effective as hand washing. Of the 87 reported cases of Shigellosis in the Genesee County area so far this year, at least 53 are within Flint city limits; 27 of these 53 cases have resulted in hospitalization. These numbers are the highest in the entire state of Michigan.

Shigellosis, although its symptoms usually do not last for more than a week, can affect people’s bowel movements for up to several months. It particularly affects those with weakened immune systems, namely the young and elderly. The bacteria’s spread is rapid and is highly contagious, so it is important that transmission be stopped.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC), state, and county have all been alerted and are working to fight the spread of the bacterial disease. In August, when first alerted to the problem, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) refused to communicate with the county supervisor, but now, efforts are underway to promote handwashing and improve communication between residents and health officials. (A spokesperson for the MDHHS claims that they did not refuse to work with the county officials, but were rather limited because of protective orders involving the ongoing investigation over the previous water outbreak.)

What does this mean for Flint, Michigan? The residents are already hesitant to trust the local and state governments after the lead-contaminated water outbreak, and the hesitance of the MDHHS will not help them trust officials anymore. What the city needs is an expansive program to help educate homeowners on the transmission of Shigellosis bacteria, as well as a program to help them get access to clean water that is affordable. There is already a program in place to promote hand-washing, but more can be done. Residents need to be made aware of all of the precautions they need to take, and of the symptoms of shigellosis so that they can be aware and avoid dehydration, a common outcome of infection. This is not an easy task, but with the help of the CDC and now the support from the MDHHS, Flint can overcome this problem and get their residents back on track with their health. It will be a long road to recovery before Flint residents can fully trust their water supply, but it is important that they are aware of all the resources at their disposal.