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Salmonella Tainted Water in Colorado Sickens 200+

Mar 24, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP The number of suspected salmonella cases linked to contaminated tap water in Alamosa, Colorado exceeded 200 Sunday.  Of 216 reported cases, 68 were confirmed by lab results, public information officer Jim Shires said.  Alamosa spokeswoman Connie Ricci said, "I am very troubled by the drinking water situation in Alamosa.”  Nine people have been hospitalized, but only one was believed to still be in the hospital, according to Shires who is part of a nine-person incident management team from Jefferson County helping Alamosa respond to the outbreak, which health officials said may be caused by the municipal water system.

Health officials said the Alamosa tap water tested positive for bacteria believed to be salmonella, but are awaiting final confirmation.  Authorities said the first victim began showing symptoms around March 8.  State emergency management officials activated an emergency operations center in the Denver suburb of Centennial to help coordinate deliveries of bottled water.

Officials planned to flush and disinfect the water system with a chlorine solution, conducting the flushing in stages beginning Tuesday morning, a process that could take anywhere from several days to a week or more.  Health officials advised residents to stop drinking and cooking with tap water last Wednesday.  During the flush, residents will not be able to use tap water, even if it is boiled, to brush teeth, wash dishes, cook, drink, or make baby formula.  "Only bottled water should be consumed from the time the flushing of the system begins until further notice from city and state officials," said city spokeswoman Ellen T. Cohen.  While residents could use tap water to bathe, they should be careful not to ingest it.

“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.  Governor Bill Ritter declared a public health emergency Friday, allotting up to $300,000 in aid and activating the Colorado National Guard to help distribute safe water.  Also, state health and emergency officials have worked with dozens of companies to provide residents with bottled water, but Shires said they hope to save most for schools and urged residents to bring large containers to distribution centers around town to be filled with safe 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.

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