July 2, 2022

Possible 12/21 Campylobacter Outbreak in Petersburg, Nebraska

A possible Campylobacter outbreak in December 2021 in the town of Petersburg, Nebraska is associated with the municipal water supply, according to news reports. Problems with the water tower may be the cause of these illnesses.

Possible 12/21 Campylobacter Outbreak in Petersburg, Nebraska

More than 40 people in the city started showing symptoms of Campylobacter poisoning. The East Central District Health Department reportedly first thought that the illnesses were linked to food. But water tower experts said that gaps in the town’s water tower let birds get in.

Wild birds can spread Campylobacter, according to experts. Crop contamination is the most common way this pathogen is spread from birds to humans.

The town started chlorinating the water supply in December 2021. That means the water is safe to drink.

The CDC’s Division of Foodborne, Waterborne, and Environmental Diseases sent a letter to the town on December 30, 2021. It stated, in part, “Starting in September, CDC has supported state and local health authorities with a Campylobacter outbreak in Petersburg associated with the municipal drinking water system. Water testing from the system identified molecular evidence of bird feces in the same drinking water sample as Campylobacter spp. DNA and culturable coliforms, suggesting bird fecal contamination of the water system led to the outbreak. The state water authority is responding to these results by requiring a thorough inspection of the water tower.”

Symptoms of a Campylobacter infection are similar to many other pathogen illnesses. The symptoms usually begin two to five days after exposure to the pathogen and last about a week. Typical symptoms include fever, abdominal cramps, and diarrhea that may be bloody.

A complication called Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) can develop in some people after this infection. This syndrome is an autoimmune disorder, leaving some patients with permanent nerve damage and some with paralysis. Symptoms of this syndrome include weakness or tingling sensations in both legs that can spread to the arms and upper body. Some patients can take years to recover.

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