Coping With Crypto: Water boil order removed

By Terri Harber August 21, 2013 11:46 am

By Terri Harber

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The citywide boil order was lifted Tuesday afternoon but government officials must continue dealing with the discovery of cryptosporidium in the municipal water supply earlier this month.

There were no crypto oocysts detected in the water samples taken late last week from points along Baker City’s municipal system, City Manager Mike Kee said Tuesday morning.

The four sites where the Oregon Health Authority wanted additional testing were Salmon Creek, Marble Springs, Birch Street and Little Marble Creek. All four locations also were tested on Aug. 11 and those water samples didn’t contain noticeable crypto. 

The last four sites tested also came up crypto-free according to samples taken between Aug. 1 and Aug. 4. Length of time between the samplings at these locations caused state officials seek additional tests, according to previous reports.

A water advisory was issued July 31 and a boil order was issued Aug. 3 when tests confirmed the presence of crypto in the water supply.

Health officials still recommend individuals with compromised immune systems — such as those receiving cancer treatment or people with HIV, as well as infants — obtain the approval of their health-care professional before consuming city tap water, the city also said in a written statement issued Tuesday.

Cattle roaming Elk Creek area

A sample taken on Aug. 4 at Elk Creek detected 913 oocysts of crypto. That site was turned out of the system after the results came to officials on Aug. 7. 

Several cattle were sighted around Elk Creek by city staff late last week, said Baker City Councilor Clair Button.

The animals might have been able to reach the creek area because a fence on the U.S. Forest Service land is in need of repair. 

Whether maintenance of the fence is the responsibility of the city or USFS appears unclear. Employees of both entities weren’t sure which one was supposed to keep the fence working properly.

Button and Councilor Dennis Dorrah hiked around the area on Monday and confirmed that cattle indeed were there.

Kee said there were no cattle in that vicinity during the town hall meeting on Aug. 8. However, Button said some of the cattle droppings near Elk Creek were fresh while others appeared much older.

Some of the excrement was sitting close to this sometimes-used municipal water source. The droppings and water could have come in contact when the water level was higher, Button said. 

And other droppings seen there were positioned to easily become part of the water runoff that flows into the creek.

The city “has known for several years there was some risk” of the parasite becoming much more pronounced in the water supply. But until recently, “the concentrations had been low,” Button said. “Hopefully it’ll stay that way again.”

The excrement that caused the illness after consumption of city water also could have come from an elk, goat or even a beaver just as easily as cattle, Button said. 

The earlier testing was part of research required by the state to determine how much more water treatment the city needed to add. It chlorinates its water supply but the threat from crypto isn’t effectively eliminated by this process.

The city wasn’t required to conduct any more testing until people started becoming sick in July.

There have been 23 confirmed cases of crypto. Health officials believe there were hundreds or even a thousand more cases not confirmed.

Preventing this parasitic illness 

The city also announced previously that municipal water would be tested twice a week for crypto once the boil order was lifted.

This could go on until the cause is found and eliminated, or until the city provides a second method of treatment on its water before it reaches users’ taps.

State officials might modify their earlier directions to the city because of the crypto outbreak.

The city currently has until October 2016 to install ultraviolet light equipment that would treat crypto and other parasites that could be in the water supply.

Three of 24 samples of the city’s water that were collected in April 2010, October 2010 and January 2011 each contained relatively small amounts of crypto. 

There were no reports of illness during that time span, however. 

County and state health officials expected to wrap up door-to-door surveys about crypto today or Thursday.

As of Tuesday the surveyors had spoken with 100 residents about how the waterborne parasite made them become ill, said Emilio DeBess, state public health veterinarian. 

There have been reports of pets also becoming sick after drinking the water.

Residents need to concern themselves with the continued possibility of contracting cryptosporidiosis because the infection still can be passed from person to person — unless they practice proper hygiene.

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 handwashing with soap and water is 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 by using condoms and other barrier-style products.

Symptoms of crypto appear two to 10 days after a person becomes infected. The average amount of time between exposure and signs of illness is seven days.

Symptoms include:

• watery diarrhea 

• weight loss

• stomach cramps or pain

• fever

• nausea

• vomiting

Now that the boil order has been lifted ...

Here’s what Baker City Public Works advised water customers to do after the boil order was removed Tuesday afternoon. City residents who haven’t used water yet should:

• Run each faucet in the home or business for three minutes to clear the plumbing of any old water. 

• Run hot water to drain contents from water heater and allow it to refill before use.

• Operate and replace water filters approved for crypto removal as recommended by the manufacturer. Replace all filters not designed to remove crypto.

• Run ice makers for three batches, dump ice, wash, rinse and sanitize ice bins.

Additional information is available at www.cdc.gov.