Salmonella From Tainted Water in Colorado May Have Sickened More Than 100Mar 21, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP
The number of confirmed salmonella cases rose in Alamosa, Colorado on Thursday, as health officials investigated whether the outbreak was caused by tainted tap water. This week, residents were advised by health department officials to avoid tap water after salmonella contamination was believed discovered in the city's water system. A city spokeswoman said it was safe for residents to boil water before using it; otherwise, bottled water should be use. "Water to be consumed should be brought to a rolling boil, but there is no need to boil longer than 15 seconds," said spokeswoman Ellen T. Cohen. Health officials suggest using bottled water for brushing teeth, washing dishes, making ice, cooking, drinking, and making baby formula. While they said that residents could use tap water to bathe, they should be careful not to ingest it.
Alamosa spokeswoman Connie Ricci said there were 47 confirmed cases of salmonella, up 14 from one day before. She said 76 other cases were under investigation, up from 46. "I am very troubled by the drinking water situation in Alamosa. The risk that a possible contamination is currently imposing on the health and well being of thousands of residents is worrisome," said Senator Ken Salazar.
Health officials said the Alamosa tap water tested positive for bacteria believed to be salmonella, but are awaiting final confirmation. The cause of the contamination remained under investigation. Authorities said the first victim began showing symptoms around March 8; state health officials became aware of the outbreak Friday. Officials set up four centers where residents could receive free bottled water or bring containers to fill with safe water, Ricci said; however, residents were limited to one gallon of free water per person, per day. State emergency management officials activated an emergency operations center in the Denver suburb of Centennial to help coordinate deliveries of bottled water.
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, but 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. The bacteria are typically spread by food, he said. Information about this outbreak is available at the COHELP line 1-877-462-2911; recorded information is available from 8:00 am and 11:00 pm, Monday through Friday.
City officials plan to start flushing and disinfecting the water system in the next few days, a process that could take a week or more. During this time, residents must use bottled water when the city begins flushing the system. "Only bottled water should be consumed from the time the flushing of the system begins until further notice from city and state officials," Cohen said.