Stomach bug outbreak prompts criminal probe

As authorities work to find out how an intestinal parasite made its way into the municipal water supply in Östersund in northern Sweden, a local prosecutor has launched a probe into possible criminal negligence.

Stomach bug outbreak prompts criminal probe

“If the investigation leads to a prosecution, the penalty will be very, very high,” said Christer B. Jarlås, an environmental prosecutor, to the TT news agency.

Police are following the work being carried out to track how the Cryptosporidium parasite ended up in Östersund’s drinking water.

Once the work is completed, the police will conduct their own investigation to survey exactly where procedures broke down and who is responsible.

“A stomach parasite that makes people and animals sick shouldn’t be released and it absolutely shouldn’t end up in municipal drinking water. What has happened gives reason to believe that, due to carelessness, one or several individuals didn’t have control of their operations and as a result caused this contamination,” said Jarlås.

Jarlås, who works for the local office of environmental and workplace crimes division of the Swedish Prosecutor Authority (Åklagarmyndigheten), launched a preliminary investigation into possible environmental crimes after test results revealed that the intestinal parasite Cryptosporidium was present in Östersund’s drinking water.

More than 2,000 residents have taken ill after ingesting water from the city’s water supply, many suffering from diarrhea, vomiting, and severe stomach cramps.

City officials continue to hunt for the source of the leak. The parasite has been detected in water heading into the city’s water supply from the Storsjön lake as well as in water heading out of a local water treatment facility.

According to local media, rumours about the possible source of the parasite are running rampant among Östersund’s residents.

One anonymous water expert told the local Östersunds-Posten newspaper that one of the causes may be that the city’s waters system intake and outtake points in Storsjön are too close to one another.

Residents of Östersund, roughly 50,000 of whom are connected to the municipal water system, can expect to have to boil tap water for several weeks, an expert with the Swedish Institute for Infectious Disease Control (Smittskyddsinstitutet) told the TT news agency.

Once the source of the parasite has been found and shut off, it will take at least a month before it’s possible to drink water directly from the tap.

The health official referenced a similar outbreak in the city of Milwaukee in the United States, in which it took two months before water was safe to drink without boiling.

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Swedes fear ‘worrying’ rise of super-gonorrhea

Swedish doctors fear that ‘super-gonorrhea’, untreatable by conventional antibiotics, is on the rise after seeing the number of cases of the sexually transmitted disease more than double in six years.

Swedes fear ‘worrying’ rise of super-gonorrhea
The Neisseria gonorrhoeae bacteria is becoming increasingly resistant. Photo: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)/Flickr
“The situation in Sweden is worrying,” Hans Fredlund, a doctor in charge of Communical Diseases and Prevention in the city of Örebro, told The Local. “We need new antibiotics effective against gonorrhea within a few years or the situation may become worse.” 
Gonorrhea, a bacterial infection, leads to a burning sensation and a thick green or yellow discharge from the urethra or vagina. Untreated, it can lead to inflammation of the joints and heart valves. In a small number of cases, it can even be fatal. 
Dr Fredlund said that Sweden had already recorded several cases of a new strain of ‘super-gonorrhea’, with bacteria resistant to azithromycin, one of the three most common antibiotics usually used to treat the sexually transmitted infection.
“The international antibiotic resistance situation is well known in Sweden and we have seen some azithromycin resistant strains, but also different other resistant strains,” he said. 
“Doctors should…always take a bacterial culture to see which antibiotic will be best for treatment. For this reason it is important that all these patients should be treated and controlled by experienced venereologists, as we do.” 
Fredlund's comments come after Dame Sally Davies, England’s chief medical officer, wrote to all doctors this month, calling on them to make sure they were prescribing the right antibiotics, following the discovery of 'super-gonorrhoea' in Leeds in northern England March. 
“Gonorrhoea is at risk of becoming an untreatable disease due to the continuing emergence of antimicrobial resistance,” she said.
Spread by unprotected vaginal, oral and anal sex, Gonorrhoea, was until recently most prevalent in Sweden among men who have sex with men, or Swedes who contracted the disease abroad, particularly in South East Asia. 
But over the last decade the number of cases has more than doubled from 691 in 1995 to 1,545 in 2015, according to the latest figures from the Swedish Public Health Agency.  
“What has happened in Sweden in recent years is that gonorrhea has become a disease diagnosed among young heterosexual persons who contracted the disease in Sweden,” Dr Fredlund said. 
He warned that this could lead to a spike in its prevalence as a much larger group of people was now exposed to the bacteria. 
The expert said that for public health officials the challenge was that warnings about safe sex needed to be imparted anew to each generation. 
“Sex is a great instinct and each year there are new people starting their sex life,” he said. “Information campaigns should go on each year and safe sex messages should be given to all teenagers at school.”
“The most important thing is to not have casual unprotected sex,” he said. “If you have casual sex, use a condom!”