More than 300 recruits at the Marines’ boot camp in San Diego are suffering from diarrheal symptoms from an bacterial outbreak, officials disclosed on Tuesday. Palomar Mountain (less than 50-miles away) had confirmed wildlife carrying the plague.
With most of the cases linked to Shiga toxin-producing E.coli bacteria physicians are treating 302 patients out of the more than 5,500 candidates undergoing training at Marine Corps Recruit Depot.
“Our immediate focus is identifying, isolating and treating recruits who present symptoms,” said Brig. Gen. William Jurney, the commander of both the depot and the Corps’ Western Recruiting Region, in a written statement. “We are working to identify the cause of the sickness, making sure our affected recruits can return to training as soon as possible and continuing training for recruits not influenced.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that the bacteria sickens 265,000 Americans annually, triggering 3,600 hospitalizations and 30 deaths.
Symptoms typically include painful stomach cramps, diarrhea that can become bloody, a mild fever and vomiting. While most victims recover within a week, some infections can threaten lives. Between five to seven percent of patients develop hemolytic uremic syndrome, a form of kidney failure, according to the CDC.
The bacteria was identified in recruits at both the depot and at Edson Range at Camp Pendleton beginning on Wednesday but the number of cases spiked on Monday, officials said.
Ten recruits were transported to an undisclosed hospital off the base for additional care.
“It’s anticipated that they’ll get to training but we’re not sure when that will happen,” said depot spokesman Steven H. Posy.
Family members will be notified if the illnesses delays a recruit’s graduation date and no drill instructors or other base staffers appear to have contracted the malady, he added.
While investigators continue searching for the source of the contagion, commanders have quarantined sick recruits from those who have yet to display symptoms, mandated increased hand washing and ensured proper sanitation in all training areas, officials said.
Naval Medical Center San Diego’s Preventative Medicine Unit also hiked inspections of barracks, dining facilities and common areas across the depot.
PLAGUE AT PALOMAR
A squirrel trapped in routine surveillance on Palomar Mountain has tested positive for plague, the first detection of the disease in San Diego County in 2015.
County environmental health officials reminded people that it is common to find the bacteria — Yersina pestis — that causes plague in San Diego County mountains and that hikers and campers should always avoid coming into contact with squirrels, chipmunks and other animals in the wild.
“You should never feed or play with squirrels when you see them outdoors,” said Environmental Health Department Director Elizabeth Pozzebon. “If you’re camping, don’t set up your tents near squirrel burrows. And if you find dead squirrels, report them to park rangers.”
Environmental health vector control crews have posted warning signs in the area where the squirrel was trapped.
Plague mainly affects wild rodents but can be spread to people by fleas when they feed on an infected animal and then bite people. Hunters can also get infected if they handle tissue or body fluids of infected animals.
Hikers and campers in rural mountain areas should always look for plague warning signs and take simple steps to avoid coming into contact with disease-carrying fleas:
- Avoid contact with ground squirrels, chipmunks and other wild animals.
- Do not feed, touch or handle wild animals. Do not rest, camp or sleep near animal burrows in the ground.
- Do not touch sick or dead animals.
- Protect your pets by keeping them on a leash, by using flea controls, or even better, by leaving them safe at home.
- Contact your doctor immediately if you become sick within a week of visiting an area known to have plague.