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FOR RELEASE: August 1, 2007
CONTACT: Pamela Williams
Office of Communications
405/271-5601

Source of Okmulgee Diarrhea Illness Outbreak Identified

Officials from the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) and Okmulgee County Health Department said today the source of the outbreak of cryptosporidiosis occurring among several residents of Okmulgee and surrounding counties appears to be the swimming pool water from the Okmulgee County Family YMCA.

Through interviews with persons who became ill, state and local health officials were able to identify the pool as the common source for the outbreak. Health officials investigated several potential sources of illness including exposure to other pools, use of the city of Okmulgee water supply, exposure to diapered children, and exposure to individuals in a childcare setting.

“The Okmulgee County Family YMCA pool is the only significant exposure associated with the development of diarrheal illness in the community,” said Lauri Smithee, chief of the OSDH Acute Disease Service.

State swimming pool inspectors and local health officials have met with pool management at the Okmulgee Family YMCA to conduct water testing and assure that the pool meets all state and national water standards before the pool reopens. YMCA officials had closed the pool voluntarily on July 23.

During its investigation, OSDH officials established with the State Department of Environmental Quality that water samples submitted from the Okmulgee public water system as recently as July 17 indicate Okmulgee’s drinking water is safe to drink. In addition, as part of a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requirement, water samples of Okmulgee’s untreated water have been tested for Cryptosporidium, and test results indicate no reports of the parasite.

At least 16 cases of cryptosporidiosis among persons in the Okmulgee area have been confirmed by laboratory analysis. Through physician and hospital reports, a community telephone survey, and persons who have contacted the Okmulgee County Health Department, at least 95 persons in Okmulgee and surrounding communities have been identified with diarrheal illness since July 14.

“It is important to note that not all persons who have had a recent diarrheal illness had cryptosporidiosis,” Smithee said. “However, we do have sufficient evidence to confirm this is the cause of the community outbreak.”

Symptoms of cryptosporidiosis include a watery diarrhea lasting one to three weeks. The disease is transmitted through fecal-oral transmission of the Cryptosporidium parasite by ingesting contaminated drinking or recreational water,
eating contaminated food, or contact with infected persons or animals. The parasite is resistant to chlorine disinfection and can live for days in chlorine-treated swimming pools. Those who have been infected are very contagious and can pass Cryptosporidium in their stool for at least two weeks after they symptoms have ended.

The OSDH has asked Okmulgee area health care clinicians to be alert for possible cases of cryptosporidiosis and to remind patients with diarrhea not to enter public or private pools. State and local health officials are also issuing recommendations to Okmulgee area recreational pool managers and childcare facilities regarding prevention and control measures for persons with diarrhea.

“We encourage operators of public pools and other recreational water facilities to 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,” Smithee said. “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.”

Smithee continued, “It is just as important for local citizens to practice appropriate hygiene before using a public or private pool.” She suggested the following measures:

  • 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.
  • Shower before entering a public or private pool.
  • Avoid swallowing pool water.

For more information, contact the Okmulgee County Health Department at (918) 756-1883.

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