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Health Department Addresses E. Coli In Water At Middle School

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UPDATE Friday, Jan. 20 from Madera County Health Department’s Dexter Marr: “Oak Creek is still under the Boil Notice Order and no food preparation is allowed. The water system is under chlorination to prevent any possible contamination to the public. The water system is required to perform additional testing and we are waiting for results.”

OAKHURST — Families associated with Oak Creek Intermediate (OCI) may want to check their kids’ backpacks tonight if they haven’t seen the notice about E. Coli contamination of water at the school.

The good news, according to the Madera County Health Department, is that a team worked all weekend to make sure the water was checked and chlorinated, and it’s going to be checked again tomorrow.

Bottled water is available for all students, staff and personnel.

Madera County Deputy Director of Environmental Health Dexter Marr says they are not precisely sure yet what the cause of contamination was, but suspect it’s because of recent heavy rains, with surface water somehow getting into the school’s water system.

In a notice dated and distributed today, as students returned from a three-day weekend, an unsafe water alert notified families that Oak Creek Intermediate school water is contaminated with E. Coli. People are advised to not drink the water on campus, and that failure to follow the advisory could result in illness.

Right now, Marr believes the situation will be resolved, though a specific date is unknown at this time. More will be revealed after additional testing tomorrow.

The problem was first noted on Friday, Jan. 13, when the school’s water system was routinely tested by campus engineers from the district as required by the state, according to Marr.

“It was identified late Friday and one of the requirements is, once a facility determines they are out of compliance, they are required to post notifications to let students and parents know that the school is on a boil water notice,” the deputy director explains.

“Our staff was out working with the operator of the school’s water system over the weekend, to make sure they were ready to post notices about the water Tuesday morning. We also contacted the food facility managers over the weekend and they are having Yosemite High School do all the food orders for other schools there in the meantime.”

Oak Creek Intermediate houses the kitchen facilities for the Bass Lake Joint Union Elementary School District.

Another inspection of Oak Creek Intermediate’s water is planned for Wednesday, Jan. 18, with the MC Health Department, the State Department of Public Health, and school maintenance engineers all on board to tackle the problem.

Once E. Coli is found in a system such as this, operators are required to do an assessment and inspection to see where the bacteria is coming from, Marr says. The school is following state procedures to make sure the contamination gets cleared up, and chlorination is disinfecting the system right now.

Marr points out that it’s okay to wash hands with the water, because it is currently chlorinated. For the same reason, the water must not be ingested.

“Washing hands is not an issue. We don’t want people to drink it.”

According to the Mayo Clinic, “Escherichia coli (E. coli) bacteria normally live in the intestines of healthy people and animals. Most varieties of E. coli are harmless or cause relatively brief diarrhea.” A few nasty strains, according to doctors, can cause severe abdominal cramps, bloody diarrhea and vomiting.

People can be exposed to the bacteria from contaminated food or water. Healthy adults usually recover from some E. Coli infections within a week, but young children and older adults have a greater risk of developing a life-threatening form of kidney failure called hemolytic uremic syndrome.

It is unknown what exact type of E. Coli had been found at the middle school, says Marr, as the testing is non-specific at this point.

In general, the health department recommends that anyone concerned with illness in a child should see a doctor.

More information will be posted as it becomes available.

Madera County Department of Environmental Health

Mayo Clinic

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