Flint, Mich., Residents Hit With Bacterial Illness as Water Crisis Continues

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After a year of dealing with lead-contaminated water, residents of Flint now face a gastrointestinal illness that spreads when people don’t wash their hands.

Residents of Flint, Mich., have spent the last year finding creative ways to avoid using the city’s contaminated water supplies in their daily lives, but now a new threat adds an additional complication to an already frustrating situation: an outbreak of shigellosis.

The New York Times reports that cases of the bacterial illness, which is easily transmitted when people don’t wash their hands, have increased in Genesee County, where Flint is the largest city.

The illness can lead to severe diarrhea, fever, nausea, vomiting, cramps, and stool containing blood or mucus. Genesee County has had 85 reported cases of the illness since the beginning of the year, the highest number in the state.

The Genesee County Health Department released a statement (pdf) noting the increase in shigella, the bacteria that causes the illness, and said that it is spread through a fecal-oral route. This means that the bacteria leaves one person’s body through the stool and is spread to others through contaminated hands, surfaces, food or water.

Residents of Flint have been relying on bottled water for drinking, but personal hygiene habits have changed in light of the water-contamination crisis. Many residents rely on baby wipes, which they are able to get for free at bottled-water distribution centers, as a substitute for washing their hands, but as the New York Times reports, this may be contributing to the spread of bacteria.

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