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Contaminated water
kills 5 in 'Sewer City'

The enormity of the disaster that is Hurricane Katrina is going to get worse, now that five people who were rescued from the floods of New Orleans have died from contact with contaminated water.

Bumper sticker declares message of faith amid high water in New Orleans (courtesy Times-Picayune)

The victims succumbed early this week to vibrio vulnificus, a rarely active bacterium associated with cholera, often entering the body through a scratch or open wound. Its symptoms include nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, cramps, headache and fever. While it’s not contagious, it has a 50-percent mortality rate if it enters the bloodstream.

Tom Skinner, spokesman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, says one case was reported in Texas, and the others in Mississippi, but all had been evacuated from New Orleans.

“There will be some more deaths associated with vibrio vulnificus in the affected areas, particularly New Orleans,” Skinner said.

Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency says the waters that deluged the Big Easy are packed with sewage, with levels at least 10 times higher than acceptable safety standards.

“Human contact with the flood water should be avoided as much as possible,” said EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson. “We don’t know what else is contained in that water.”

He says experts did not evaluate exactly how much sewage was in the water, but stopped the testing when it hit the 10-fold mark.

Also showing up in the search for more than 100 chemicals and other pollutants was coliform and lead exceeding EPA safety levels.

Federal health officials are providing the following guidelines for those in contact with flood water:

  • Wash your hands before drinking and eating

  • Wash frequently using soap – especially disinfecting soap

  • Do not smoke

  • Limit direct contact with contaminated flood water

  • Report cuts or open wounds and limit exposure

  • Report all symptoms

  • Keep vaccinations current


    If you would like to help
    victims of Hurricane Katrina, here are some of the best ways to do so.

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