The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said, citing reports from local health officials, four people died of a water-borne illness they contracted from dirty water following Hurricane Katrina. CDC Director Julie Gerberding told reporters on a conference call today that the water-borne bacteria Vibrio vulnificus, a relative of the pathogen that causes cholera, was suspected in one death in Texas and three in Mississippi. A fifth person is ill, and that patient's location wasn't immediately known, CDC spokeswoman Bernadette Burden said.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is pumping the water out of New Orleans following flooding caused last week by Hurricane Katrina, which government officials say ranks among the biggest U.S. natural disasters. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said today that the contaminated floodwater in New Orleans contains levels of the bacterium E. Coli and lead that are at least 10 times higher than is considered safe. Health officials are still working to verify that infection was the cause of the deaths, said Von Roebuck, a CDC spokesman. Disease from contaminated floodwaters threatens to add to the death toll of the hurricane, which health officials have already estimated in the thousands. CDC is sending about 100 health workers into New Orleans to begin an assessment of health facilities and look for signs of contagious disease. The infection is far less dangerous than its better known relative, Vibrio cholera, Louisiana state epidemiologist Raoult Ratard said in a press conference in Baton Rouge. Vulnificus lives only in salty water, while cholera can infect people who drink contaminated fresh water, he said.
Crowded shelters are ``potentially dangerous, but we're going to watch carefully,'' he said in an interview. ``We don't know what tomorrow may bring'', reported Bloomberg.com.