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FOR RELEASE: July 27, 2007
CONTACT: Pamela Williams
Office of Communications
405/271-5601
or
Tressia Ables
Okmulgee County Health Dept.
918/756-1883

Cause Identified for Diarrhea Illness Outbreak; Source Still Pending

Officials from the Oklahoma State Department of Health and Okmulgee County Health Department said today they now know what caused the gastroenteritis outbreak occurring among residents of Okmulgee and surrounding counties, but the source of the agent remains elusive.

Health officials say at least eight cases of cryptosporidiosis have been confirmed through laboratory analysis. Cryptosporidiosis is a gastrointestinal illness caused by the Cryptosporidium parasite that can produce watery diarrhea lasting one to three weeks. The disease is transmitted through fecal-oral transmission of the parasiteby ingesting contaminated drinking or recreational water, consumption of contaminated food, and contact with infected persons or animals.

Through physician and hospital reports, community surveys, and people who have contacted the Okmulgee County Health Department, at least 86 persons in Okmulgee and surrounding communities have been identified with gastrointestinal illness since July 14. State and local health officials continue to interview persons who have become ill in an attempt to identify a common source for the outbreak. No source has yet been confirmed.

“While we don’t yet know where the Cryptosporidium originated, we do know that it lives in the intestine of infected humans or animals and is found in soil, food, water, or surfaces that have been contaminated,” said State Epidemiologist Dr. Kristy Bradley.

“As a result, the parasite may be found in drinking and recreational water in every region of the United States and throughout the world.”

Bradley noted that the Cryptosporidium parasite is resistant to chlorine disinfection and can live for days in chlorine-treated swimming pools.

In 2006, 18 cryptosporidiosis outbeaks were reported to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. None were in Oklahoma.

Persons with cryptosporidiosis are likely to experience watery diarrhea, weight
loss, stomach cramps and pain, fever, nausea and vomiting. Those who have been infected are very contagious and can pass Cryptosporidium in their stool for at least two weeks after their symptoms have ended.

“Since we have identified this cryptosporidiosis outbreak in the community, we encourage citizens to share in the responsibility of helping control this outbreak,” said Bradley. She offered the following recommendations to prevent disease transmission:

  • Practice proper hygiene, including handwashing, after using the restroom or changing diapers.
  • Do not swim while experiencing a diarrheal illness and for two weeks afterward.
  • Avoid swallowing pool water.
  • Shower before entering a public or private pool.
  • Operators of public pools and other recreational water facilities should place messages that encourage those who have had diarrhea within the last two weeks to not use the facilities; prohibit pool staff with diarrhea from entering a pool; and consider suspending swim classes and other group events, including large day care center visits, during a cryptosporidiosis outbreak.
  • Owners of private pools should also promote good pool hygiene practices, including discouraging the use of the pool by those who have been recently ill with diarrhea.
  • Health care providers should report cases of cryptosporidiosis to the local health department, collect stool samples and request Cryptosporidium testing when indicated, and remind patients, including parents of children with diarrhea, not to enter the water at recreational aquatic facilities.

“If you or your children have a diarrheal illness, see your health care provider and protect others by not swimming,” said Bradley.

For more information, contact the Okmulgee County Health Department at 756-1883.   

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