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Giardia, Cryptosporidium Found in Alamosa Water

Apr 10, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP Yesterday, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment received results of water sampling in Alamosa that were performed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and revealed the presence of Giardia and Cryptosporidium, in addition the Salmonella already being addressed.  The two parasites can cause diarrheal illness.

Last month, the water supply in Alamosa—an area in Colorado—became tainted with the salmonella bacteria, rendering the water there unfit to drink.  To resolve the problem, crews have been flushing Alamosa's water supply with chlorine, which has also rendered the water unfit to drink.  Because of the initially high concentrations of chlorine used in the weeks-long flushing process, the residents of Alamosa were also unable to shower, wash dishes, or brush their teeth with municipal water.

The samples containing the two additional parasites were drawn by the CDC prior to the start of the water system was flush and disinfection.  Additional sampling must be taken to confirm that the parasites were eliminated during the current, ongoing flush.  The state’s Water Quality Control Division took new samples Wednesday; however, lab results are not expected on these latest samples until sometime this weekend, at the earliest.  Once testing confirms the water is suitable for drinking, the state’s boil order will be lifted.

City, state, and federal officials flushed Alamosa's water system with heavy doses of chlorine last month.  Since then, none of the tap water samples tested by state officials contained any salmonella, said state health department spokesman Mark Salley.  According to city clerk Judy Egbert, Alamosa water could be fit to drink any day now, but added that it will be at least midweek before the water can be declared safe for drinking.

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.  Waterborne salmonella outbreaks are fairly rare, said Mark Salley, a spokesman for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

Since March 19th, Alamosa residents have been unable to use tap water for brushing teeth, washing dishes, drinking, and cooking.  Schools and restaurants were closed and the National Guard was distributing bottled water.  The chlorination treatment moved into Stage 2 last weekend with lower chlorine levels that allowed most adults to take brief showers.  As of Tuesday afternoon, there were 389 total cases of salmonella, with 107 of these culture-confirmed and 16 hospitalized.  It is not known how the water initially became contaminated with the salmonella bacteria and, to date, about 10,000 people are affected by the contamination.

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