Tests have confirmed that the water flooding New Orleans is a stew of sewage-borne bacteria. Dr. Julie Gerberding, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the message was clear to evacuees who are reluctant to leave the city. "You must do so," she said. "This water is not going away any time soon."
But she stressed that the deaths do "not represent an outbreak". "It does not spread from person to person. People who are compromised in immunity can sometimes develop very severe infections from these bacteria. We see cases of this from time to time along the coast," she said.
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Stephen Johnson said all the tests of waters in flooded residential areas of New Orleans exceeded by at least 10 times the safe levels of E.coli and other so-called coliform bacteria, found in the human gut and used as an indicator of sewage contamination. Test results also showed high levels of lead.
The danger of infection also continues in the crowded shelters where refugees are staying for the foreseeable future.
"Right now in the shelters where most of the people are located we have seen sporadic reports of gastrointestinal illness," Dr Gerberding said.