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Alamosa Colorado Starts Attempting to Flush Salmonella from Water System

Mar 25, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP

It could be weeks before salmonella tainted tap water is safe for use in Alamosa, Colorado.  More than 200 residents of the small Colorado town have come down with symptoms of Salmonella poisoning, and health officials in the state still do not know what caused the contamination of the city's water supply.  According to the Los Angeles Times, Alamosa officials began flushing the water system with concentrated chlorine in an effort to drive out the salmonella.  However, they have warned that  while the chlorine is in the system, the water will not be safe to use, even if it boiled.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), salmonella bacteria sicken 40,000 people every year. Although the true number could be much higher, because it is estimated that for every case of Salmonella poisoning reported, two others are unreported.  Salmonella causes fever, abdominal pain, nausea, gas and bloody diarrhea. Symptoms appear within 36 hours of exposure, and usually last four to seven days. In very severe cases, salmonella can lead to kidney failure and other complications. Salmonella can be particularly dangerous for children, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems. In rare cases, salmonella can cause a disease called Reiter’s Syndrome, a difficult- to- treat condition that causes severe joint pain, irritation of the eyes, and painful urination.

Health officials said the Alamosa tap water tested positive for bacteria believed to be salmonella, and those tests were confirmed yesterday.  Authorities said the first victim began showing symptoms around March 8.   Since then, more than 237 people have reported salmonella symptoms, and of those, 68 have been confirmed through lab tests.  Nine of the victims were hospitalized.

Officials in the town have not determined the cause of the salmonella contamination, but have ruled out wastewater contamination and terrorism.  According to the Los Angeles Times, Alamosa draws its water from deep wells that taps an aquifer directly. Because the drinking water comes straight from the ground, it is not chemically treated.

Alamosa Public Works Director Don Koskelin told the Los Angeles Times that it will take several days to flush the 50 miles of pipes that make up the city's water supply system.  After that, authorities will have to wait a week for tests to come back before they can declare the water safe to drink.

The Los Angeles Times reports that the salmonella scare has taken a toll on the town of roughly 10,000 people. Bottled water is scarce, with most residents relying on public distribution centers. Businesses have closed, and restaurants are empty.

Salmonella outbreaks linked to contaminated municipal water systems is rare, but not unheard of.  One of the largest instances occurred in Riverside, California in 1965, when 16,000 residents were sickened; three died.

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