Health Commissioner Acts to Protect Water Supplies at Fairs - E. Coli case count climbs to 771 in Capital District outbreak
Albany, September 13 – New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Antonia C. Novello today used her emergency powers to protect fair–goers from exposure to potentially contaminated water supplies.
In the wake of an E. coli outbreak that has now sickened 771 individuals and claimed two lives, Dr. Novello issued a summary order that applies to all fairgrounds that do not have public water supply systems, and for all public events scheduled to be held at those fairgrounds between now and December 31, 1999. The Health Commissioner directed the fairgrounds managers to:
- Assess water systems prior to holding any public events on the fairgrounds;
- Disinfect systems through chlorination or other measures;
- Monitor water supplies prior to start of public events; and
- Monitor water supplies daily during public events.
Dr. Novello said she will also be reviewing existing statutes and regulations, including provisions governing public water supplies, mass gatherings and temporary food vendors, to determine what changes should be made to insure the safety of water supplies at public events.
"When I became State Health Commissioner, I promised that public health would be my top priority. And, just a few days ago, I promised that I would take quick action to insure that people who go to a fair to have a good time do not have to worry about whether they, their families or their children will become sick. Today I am keeping those promises." Dr. Novello said.
"My summary order will protect New Yorkers today, tomorrow and in the days and weeks ahead while we determine what permanent changes to State law need to be made to prevent such an outbreak from ever happening again."
Health officials also announced that scientists at the State Health Department's Wadsworth Laboratories today matched the strain of E. coli 0157:H7 in 12 water samples from a contaminated well on the Washington County fairgrounds and from a pipe connection to vendors in the southwest section of the fairgrounds to the E. coli bacteria recovered from 25 patients.
The match was made through Pusled Field Gel Electropohoesis, commonly known as DNA fingerprinting. The technique proves beyond a doubt that these 25 individuals were infected with bacteria whose DNA are identical to E. coli 0157:H7 recovered from the fairgrounds' water supply.
State health officials said of the 771 cases of E. coli infection received thus far, 108 have been laboratory confirmed. Sixty–two people have been hospitalized and eleven children developed Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome, a severe complication of E. coli infection. Two people have died.
Today's summary order is the first of its kind since 1996, when the Health Department banned the use of ephedrine in herbal products.