ALAMOSA, Colo. (AP) -- Crews started pumping chlorine through this southern Colorado city's water system Tuesday to rid it of salmonella bacteria that has sickened nearly 250 people.
Residents will not be able to drink the water until the last of the disinfecting chemical washes out of the water system, possibly a couple of weeks, officials said. Bathing with it may be allowed within a couple of days.
In the meantime, water distribution centers were set up throughout town and Mayor Pro Tem Kathy Rogers said there were plans to bring in temporary showers if necessary.
Residents were unsure they would be able to stay in their homes while the system was disinfected.
The first salmonella victim began showing symptoms around March 8, and state health officials became aware of the outbreak a week later, officials said.
The total number of salmonella cases has jumped to 248, with 72 cases confirmed, state health officials said.
Salmonella can cause diarrhea, fever and stomach pain. Victims typically recover on their own, but the elderly, infants and people with impaired immune systems may require treatment.
So far, city and state experts haven't pinpointed the source of the contamination.
No fecal matter has been found in the water, ruling out cross contamination between drinking water and wastewater. Officials have also ruled out disgruntled employees and terrorism.
Alamosa Public Works Director Don Koskelin said the city has examined businesses, such as car washes, and other potential sources of contamination, but have found nothing.
Koskelin said he believes this is a one-time event that will be solved by flushing more than 50 miles of water lines.
Salmonella is usually a food-borne disease and contamination of public water systems is rare. There were only 15 such cases between 1971 and 2004, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.