Eleven Havre people confirmed with cryptosporidium
By Tim Leeds
Health officials are warning people in Havre to be sure to use proper hygiene because of an outbreak of a parasitic disease.
County sanitarian Clay Vincent said today state health officials have confirmed 11 cases of cryptosporidiosis, a diarrheal disease caused by a microscopic parasite called cryptosporidium parvum.
Testing for the disease began when people in Havre began showing severe flu-like symptoms. After about a week of testing, positive reports of crypto began coming in, health officials said.
Children who attend at least four day cares in Havre, and workers at the day cares, came down with symptoms of crypto, said Debbie McCormick, a day care operator and president of the Hi-Line Child Care Providers.
Symptoms of the infection include diarrhea, loose or watery stool, stomach cramps, upset stomach and a slight fever.
Vincent said that with proper care and hygiene, the outbreak should be contained.
"We just hope it calmly goes away and we don't have to deal with it," he said.
The Hill County Health Department is working to find what might have caused the infection, though Vincent said the infection happened long enough ago it might be hard to find the specific cause. The first symptoms appeared the end of the week of Aug. 19, and people generally start to show symptoms two to 10 days after being infected.
Jim Murphy, health specialist for the Montana Department of Health and Human Services, said the severity of the outbreak is hard to judge. He said it is the largest cluster of the infection he has heard of in Montana, but because so many of the people with symptoms were children, more people were tested than normally would be. The department tested 14 people and got positive results for 11.
Many people who have symptoms of crypto probably aren't ever tested for it, Murphy added, so there could normally be a higher occurrence of the parasite than is recorded.
Having 11 cases so close together is significant, Murphy said, and the health department is working to try to find the cause and prevent any further spreading of the disease. He added that health care providers should be aware of the symptoms in case new cases come up.
Vincent said his department is contacting day cares in the area to give them information about the disease and how to prevent its spread. Although the chance of spreading the parasite decreases after symptoms are gone, the parasite can still be spread a week or two afterward.
Crypto is spread by people putting something in their mouth or eating or drinking something that is infected with the parasite. Infection can occur from swallowing contaminated recreational water, by eating raw fruits or vegetables that have contaminated, or by accidentally swallowing crypto picked up from infected surfaces such as toys, bathroom fixtures, changing tables or diapers or diaper pails.
Crypto is highly contagious, and to avoid spreading the parasite, people should wash their hands thoroughly with soap and water, especially after using the toilet or changing diapers, and before handling or eating food.
Symptoms usually appear within days after a person is infected with the parasite, and generally last about two weeks. The symptoms often go in cycles where a person feels better for a few days, then feels worse again.
McCormick added that the infection hasn't spread to any other kids at the day cares since the symptoms first started to show.
The county Health Department examined the Montana State University-Northern pool as a possible source after several day care providers said they had taken their children there. Vincent said the tests his department conducted on the pool didn't find any problems with the records or chemical levels.
Vincent thinks it is unlikely that the Northern pool was the source of the infection, because the number of confirmed cases is low for the number of people using the pool. It is possible, though, that if a person had crypto and got into the pool, others could have been infected, he said.
Crypto, like the similar parasite giardia, can survive for several days in chlorinated water.
Northern athletic director Ted Spatkowski said chlorine and pH tests were not taken on Aug. 20 because the tester wasn't working. He added that the levels of the pool were fine the day before and the day after the test wasn't run.
The Northern pool was closed for about a week during the time the symptoms of crypto were first reported. Spatkowski said the closure of the pool had no connection with the reports. The pool was closed to begin installation of a new chlorination system and had been planned for several months.
On the Net: Center for Disease Controll; Cryptosproidiosis: http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/diseases/submenus/sub_crypto.htm