Deniers could be crypto carriers

Written by By Terri Harber August 16, 2013 01:38 pm

By Terri Harber

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Each day, former Baker City Councilor Sam Bass has been drinking six glasses of water straight out the tap — even after the boil warning and subsequent issuance of a boil order. 

Bass uses no home water filter before gulping down the water.

“Some little bug comes along, slips in ... and the whole town panics,” he said last week during the cryptosporidium town hall meeting on Aug. 8.


And after Bass stated that he takes his city water untreated, the mayor responded: “Good for you, Sam.” 

There were a few groans but there also was some applause from the audience of about 250 people.

Another resident, Delores E. Stiltner, told the councilors during their Tuesday meeting: “Our water is really good water in south Baker.”

Only 22 cases of cryptosporidiosis have been confirmed so far. It’s believed the number of people who consumed the city’s water and became sick could ultimately reach a four-digit figure. 

The waterborne crypto parasite can cause watery diarrhea, stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting and weight loss.

Most people exposed to crypto don’t become very ill — or simply feel just fine.

The naysayers still ought to watch out for their own health and that of others around them, health officials warn.

“Even people feeling well can still spread it to other people,” said Alicia Hills, Baker County Health Department nursing supervisor. “Some people can build up tolerance and not be affected. Every disease or condition affects everybody different.”

And there are just “some people who don’t think it effects them,” she said.

This ailment can be passed from person to person. And people with compromised immune systems or serious health problems could potentially die from crypto: people with AIDS/HIV, cancer patients, people with transplanted organs, those taking immunosuppressive drugs, and infants and young children.

State officials have been conducting surveys to see if they could glean information that could help stop this type of outbreak in the future.

But interpreting this local event is “also a little bit like reading tea leaves,” said  Dr. Bill Keene, senior state epidemiologist with the Oregon Health Division.

Crypto also can be spread by such things as unhygienic food preparation or by taking in infected swimming water. But in this instance, all of the people who became sick consumed Baker City water.

Municipal water being the source of a crypto outbreak isn’t very common so there’s “not a lot of precedents. But it’s not completely uncharted territory either,” Keene said. 

And each outbreak “has unique circumstances.”

The amount of the parasite detected in the city’s water appears to be nearing zero oocysts. But health officials are waiting for more test results to ensure the water is safe enough for almost everyone to consume without boiling it first. (The results are expected next week).

Until then,  health officials want people to continue adhering to the boil order. 

Some longtime residents might already be physically tolerant to crypto. Ranchers and farmers also might be less likely to fall ill because of repeated, long-term exposure to it, Keene said.

People also need to continue taking other precautions  — even after the water boiling order has been lifted.  And those who haven’t been boiling need to follow these other precautions if they haven’t been doing so already.

Businesses are required to take added measures if they sell food or do things that could potentially spread crypto, for example. 

But otherwise, “it’s easy for some people to think nothing is wrong,” Keene said. “There’s no way to force people to take precautions.”

Crypto can be passed by putting anything in one’s mouth that has been in contact with the feces of an infected person or animal. And it’s an infection that can linger for up to two weeks after symptoms go away.

Frequent and thorough hand washing with soap and water, is extremely important — especially after changing diapers, using the toilet, before eating or preparing food, before and after tending to someone ill with diarrhea and after handling animal waste.

Stay out of swimming pools and hot tubs — especially if you have had diarrhea within the past two weeks.  Keep children out of pools and recreational tubs if they’ve had diarrhea within that same amount of time. 

Wash raw fruits and vegetables to remove potential crypto. 

And practice safer sex.

Keene suggested that people think of crypto as they would a cold or the flu. The idea is to put some thought and effort into not spreading these germs.

“This is an opportunity for children to learn lifelong good habits and for other people to get a refresher course on the importance of good hygiene,” he said. 

For details about stopping the spread of this parasite, visit http://www.cdc.gov/parasites/crypto/prevention.html.