Since the unprecedented citywide boil water notice was issued on Monday, Austin Public Health officials said they have seen no uptick in illnesses they would associate with water contamination.
Weeks of extended rainfall have set off a damaging chain reaction in the Central Texas region. Destructive flooding upstream in the Hill Country has flushed extraordinary levels sediment into Austin’s water resources, strangling the city’s water treatment plants and leading city officials to warn of potential contamination in Austin’s tap water. All of Austin has been advised to cut back on water use and boil their tap water for at least three minutes before consumption.
Jeff Taylor, manager of the epidemiology program in the city’s health department, said the city regularly receives information from the area’s school districts, long-term care facilities and hospitals on any health anomalies or trends. As the city enters the fourth day of the boil water notice, Taylor said there have been no oddities in the number of gastroenteritis, stomach or intestinal virus cases—illnesses that Taylor said bacteria or parasites in the water would cause.
“We’re not seeing any indication that there is a community wide outbreak [in any of these cases],” Taylor said Thursday morning.
Austin Public Health monitors health trends through reported absences in students and faculty in the school system, outbreaks of sicknesses or symptoms in long-term care facilities and chief complaints of patients coming in to the city’s hospitals.
With the heavy rainfall flushing dirtier-than-usual water into the city’s system, Taylor said foreign organisms, bacteria and parasites are picked up along the way and are more difficult to separate out during the treatment process. He said consumption of these contaminants typically results in symptoms similar to the stomach flu.
Although the health department has not recognized any outbreak yet, Taylor reiterated that the city still remains under a boil water notice and urged residents to continue obeying the notice until city officials say otherwise.