Jayson Jacoby
The Baker City Herald

By Chris Collins


Alicia Hills has been hard to catch these days in her role as nursing supervisor at the Baker County Health Department.

She's busy helping county and city officials track the outbreak of cryptosporidium in the city's water supply and answering questions from throughout the community.

When Hills was finally able to catch her breath Tuesday, she provided a timeline of how the crypto outbreak was first discovered at St. Alphonsus Medical Center.

To date, 14 cases of cryptosporidiosis have been confirmed through fecal testing.

Hills received the first report of a confirmed case on July 29, two days before the city issued its boil-water advisory to community residents.

Additional reports came in a short time later, she said.

A communicable disease becomes a public health concern anytime reports are received of two or more people with the same illness who live in different households, Hills said.

"It raises our awareness and changes our surveillance level," she said.

She notified the medical community and asked providers to look for common symptoms that could point to additional cases.

On July 30, Hills notified Fred Warner Jr., Baker County Commission chair and Health Department administrator, and the state epidemiologists of the concern.

An early morning meeting with Oregon Health Authority officials was called for 5 a.m. Wednesday, July 31. It was attended by Hills, Warner, Baker City Manager Mike Kee, County Commissioner Mark Bennett and Jason Yencopal, the county's Emergency Program manager.

Another meeting was scheduled at 9 a.m. that day, which brought together other agencies representatives. A statement informing the public of the situation was released by noon.

In the meantime, Kee had notified media outlets earlier in the day and the information was published in the July 31 edition of the Baker City Herald.

"It all happened in a real short time frame," Hills said.

Health Department representatives attended the Community Night Out Tuesday to distribute information and to help increase public awareness of how to best respond to the crypto situation.

Information also will be distributed this week at the Baker County Fair.

Hills said those who are suffering with severe diarrhea and other symptoms of the illness caused by cryptosporidium are advised to keep well hydrated.

"It will run its course for most healthy people," she said.

Those who have compromised immune systems are advised to follow-up with their health-care provider.