Salmonella Outbreak in Alamosa, Colorado Linked to City Water System

This week, residents in Alamosa, Colorado were advised by health department officials to avoid tap water after <"">salmonella contamination was discovered in the city’s water system.  A city spokeswoman said it was safe for residents to boil water before using it; otherwise, bottled water should be use.  “Water to be consumed should be brought to a rolling boil, but there is no need to boil longer than 15 seconds,” said spokeswoman Ellen T. Cohen.  Residents must start using bottled water when the city begins flushing the system; which should take a week, Cohen said.  During the cleaning, residents will not be able to boil the water to clean it, she said.  Instead, officials recommend everyone stock up on bottled water.  “Only bottled water should be consumed from the time the flushing of the system begins until further notice from city and state officials,” Cohen said.

Thirty-three cases of salmonella were confirmed and linked to the outbreak; officials are investigating another 46 cases.  “I am very troubled by the drinking water situation in Alamosa.  The risk that a possible contamination is currently imposing on the health and well being of thousands of residents is worrisome,” said Senator Ken Salazar.  “I will do whatever I can at the federal level working with state and local authorities to get to the bottom of this.”

Salmonella is a common bacteria than can cause serious illness and usually comes from contaminated food, but can come from contaminated water.  Information about this outbreak is available at the COHELP line 1-877-462-2911; recorded information is available from 8:00 am and 11:00 pm, Monday through Friday.  Also, Colorado state consumer protection officials provided the following guidance during the bottled water order:

  • At home, use bottled water for cooking, drinking, brushing teeth, making ice, washing dishes, and for adding to any food, especially baby formula.
  • Do not use water to wash plates, cups and utensils.  Use only single-service utensils, such as paper plates, napkins, cups, plastic spoons, forks, and knives.
  • Home-style/domestic dishwashing machines are adequate for sanitizing if the heat drying cycle is applied.  Bathing and showering should present no problems for healthy individuals; do not ingest water during such activities.
  • No commercial food preparation should be done unless approved by the local public health agency.  Consider using prepared food from an alternative approved source.  Use only prepackaged foods that do not require any additional preparation other than heating in its original container.  Use frozen/canned produce.
  • Frequently wash hands and apply hand sanitizer after washing.
  • Do not touch food with bare hands. Use disposable gloves.
  • Purchase packaged potable ice.

People infected with salmonella develop diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps within 12 to 72 hours of infection.  Laboratory testing is required to determine the presence of Salmonella; additional testing can determine the specific type and which antibiotics are needed.  Generally, the illness lasts a week and most recover without treatment; however, in some, hospitalization is required because the infection may have spread from the intestines to the blood stream and other body sites.  Severe cases can result in death if not treated.

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