Investigation is underway as an illness grows from one case to 40, and sweeps the Alta area
Buena Vista County Public Health department is investigating an outbreak of an unknown illness first reported in the county last Thursday. By Monday, some 40 cases had been reported, and an increasing number of people were seeking help for an illness with vomiting, diarrhea and stomach ache.
"The first cases seemed to come from the lower elementary school age children in Alta, and most of what we have seen so far is limited to Alta," said Diane Anderson of BV Public Health. "We don't know if it originally came from some food-borne illness, or possibly some kind of bacteria or viral situation. "We started an investigation, and have samples in to the University Hygenics Lab in Iowa City, but we haven't yet heard an answer for what we have here."
Those with the illness are being encouraged to take a lot of fluids and get a lot of rest, and so far, those who have been ill seem to be recovering within a few days. The public health department is not treating it with antibiotics, at least not until they have positively identified the source of the sickness.
In the meantime, they have gone to unusual measures in hopes of slowing the spread of the illness.
In a statement issued to the Pilot-Tribune on Monday, the department encouraged everyone in the county to take special hygiene precautions to prevent the spread of the symptoms - starting with frequent hand-washings as the best defense to control a spread of infection.
The natural oils in the skin trap germs that can make a person sick, eben when the skin appears to the eye to be clean. Cold, diarrhea and other illnesses are often transmitted in this way. A cold water rinse will not do the trick - the health department emphasizes that people should use warm to hot water and soap in a vigorous washing of at least 15-20 seconds.
Wash wrists, palms and back of hands, between the fingers and underneath the fingernails as much as possible, then rinse under clean running water and dry thoroughly. Hands should be washed before and after eating, when there has been a cut or break in the skin, when a person has cared for a sick or injured person or animal, and before inserting or removing contact lenses.
Residents are also advised to wash thoroughly after using a restroom, handling uncooked food - especially meat, fish or poultry - after changing a diaper, after sneezing or coughing, after touching an animal - particularly a reptile, or handling trash.
"Remember - handwashing could prevent the spread of 95 percent of all infections," the statement reads.
While the department does not yet know if the particular illness sweeping the Alta area is related to any of these potential causes, Anderson said that simple washing is the best form of control for most forms of bacteria and the many illnesses they can cause. Anyone with additional questions on the illness or prevention methods may contact the Buena Vista County Public Health agency at 749-2548.