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Death Confirmed in Alamosa Salmonella Outbreak

Apr 21, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP Last month, the water supply in Alamosa, Colorado became tainted with salmonella and other bacteria rendering the water there unfit to drink, and for a time, use for showering, for 24 days.  Now, the first death related to the salmonella outbreak has been confirmed.

Since March 19th, Alamosa residents were unable to use tap water for brushing teeth, washing dishes, drinking, and cooking.  At one point, there was not much residents could do other than flush their toilets.  Schools and restaurants were closed and the National Guard was handing out bottled water.  To resolve the problem, crews flushed Alamosa's water supply with chlorine and, because of the initially high concentrations of chlorine used in the weeks-long flushing process, the residents of Alamosa were also unable to shower for a time.

Julie Geiser, director of the nursing service, would not release any information on the deceased, such as age, gender, or the date of death.  And, although the salmonella strain that sickened the deceased was identical to the strain in the city’s tainted water—this, according to Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment testing—Deputy Coroner Kevin Rogers said his office had no report of salmonella-related deaths and Geiser said it was not known how the deceased contracted salmonella.

Since news of the first illness reached health officials on March 6, there have been 411 reported salmonella cases; 112 confirmed through laboratory testing.  There have also been 18 hospitalizations.  It remains unclear how many remain in the hospital.  Dr. Bill Briton, epidemiologist for the San Luis Valley region, said the number of daily reported salmonella cases dropped dramatically following the city's chlorine treatment; however, up to three reports of people with symptoms related to salmonella were received daily.

Health officials discussed how to prevent the spread of salmonella through person-to-person contact, including thorough hand washing, especially after using the bathroom or changing diapers and disinfecting cutting boards and utensils before use with a second food item.  The county nursing service advised anyone with symptoms should not prepare food for others. Restaurant and health-care workers should not return to work until at least 24 hours after symptoms have stopped and babies and young children should not be taken to child-care centers or attend school until at least 24 hours after diarrhea ceases.

People infected with salmonella develop diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps within 12 to 72 hours of infection.  Laboratory testing is required to determine the presence of salmonella; additional testing can determine the specific type and which antibiotics are needed.  Generally, the illness lasts a week and most recover without treatment; however, the elderly, infants, and people with impaired immune systems may require treatment and—in some—hospitalization is required because the infection may have spread from the intestines to the blood stream and other body sites.  Severe cases can result in death if not treated.

It is not known how Alamosa’s water became contaminated with the salmonella bacteria and, to date, about 10,000 people were affected by the contamination.  The investigation continues to find the actual contamination cause.

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