La Grande water OK, city says

Written by Observer staff July 31, 2013 02:05 pm

Five cases of cryptosporidium, a waterborne illness that can cause persistent watery diarrhea, stomach cramps and a fever, symptoms that in some cases mimic the flu, have been confirmed in Baker City residents the past two days, and more possible cases have been reported but the City of La Grande is not having any such problems.

La Grande City Manager Robert Strope said the city has been receiving calls from concerned La Grande residents, but they do not have any cause for concern.

"The City of La Grande does not have any issues with our water," Strope said.

Although the source of the infections has not been confirmed, the city’s drinking water is suspected, and city officials recommend residents boil tapwater that is to be consumed or used for cooking, washing dishes or brushing teeth, City Manager Mike Kee said this morning.

The city will be flushing its water system over the next several days, according to a press release. 

The city also has closed Sam-O Swim Center to drain and clean the pool.  

Kee said city officials are taking water samples to be tested. Results could take several days.

All five confirmed cases involve people who are believed to have ingested contaminated water between July 12 and July 26, according to the press release.

Kee said city workers early today changed the area of the watershed from which the city gets its water. The city uses a dozen springs and streams in the Elkhorn Mountains about 10 miles west of town.

According to the Oregon Public Health Division there has been only one confirmed case of crypto in Baker County since at least 1999. The agency’s report doesn’t list the source of that case, which happened in 2007.

Officials from the state Health Division are traveling to Baker City today to try to pinpoint the source of the infections.

St. Alphonsus Medical Center-Baker City confirmed that crypto was responsible for the symptoms that brought people to the emergency room, Kee said.

Water should be boiled (rolling boil) for one minute, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

According to the Health Division, symptoms of cryptosporidium infection (technically it’s called cryptosporidiosis) in healthy people usually are relatively minor and do not require emergency room treatment.

Diarrhea can cause dehydration, so people with symptoms should drink plenty of fluids.

Pets also can be affected by cryptosporidium, said Dr. Emilio DeBess, public health veterinarian. Pet owners should boil water for their pets as well or provide bottled water.  

A prescription medication called nitazoxanide is sometimes used to treat diarrhea caused by crypto.

The city has until Oct. 1, 2016, to install equipment that would remove crypto from its water.

Three of 24 samples of the city’s water, collected in April 2010, October 2010 and January 2011, each contained relatively small amounts of crypto. No cases of illness were reported during that period.