The case of “Blazing Diarrhea”

I was able to help out with another interesting outbreak several weeks ago.  In June, an Amish family’s barn in south central Michigan caught on fire, with 240 one week old feeder calves inside.  With the barn roof ablaze, the Amish farmer was able to save half of the calves before fire fighters showed up.  Once on scene, the fire fighters were able to save another 60 calves before the flaming roof collapsed on the metal calf stanchions.  Courageously, the fire fighters then started to climb between the pens and under the fiery ruins, pulling calves out one by one.  The great news for the farmer is that he only ended up losing 26; the bad news for the firemen is that 20 out of the 34 present that day had diarrhea and other GI symptoms a week later.  One fire fighter was severely affected and hospitalized.  Some tests that were performed suggested cryptosporidium as the causative agent.

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Two weeks after the incident, CDC EIS officer and fellow DVM, Jenna Webeck and I took a trip to the farm to collect samples for crypto testing.  I expected to be pulling up to charred barn ruins.  Instead, we pulled up to a brand new barn; the Amish community had built a new one in just three days!  The farm was very well kept and even had a treated swimming pond with a nice clubhouse, dock, and slide that the family’s children played in all the time (Along with some Canada geese and other fowl).  As expected, the farmer was very pleasant and offered us coffee as he rehashed the events of the fire.  He blamed the fire on the diesel engine that ran the water pump for the farm (Evidently they can have modern “luxuries” for business use, like).  After the blaze started, the firemen had no water source to battle the flames except the nearby swimming pond.  Water was pumped from the pond into an inflatable reservoir.  From there it was used for the fire truck’s water hoses and for the firemen to wash themselves. 

Jenna and I collected 25 stool samples from the calves, and water samples from a hydrant and the nearby swimming pond.  We submitted them to the Center for Disease Control and MSU for testing.  As expected, 10 of the 25 calf stool samples turned out to be crypto parvum positive.  Four of the 25 calves were also positive for Giardia.  Somewhat surprising was that the treated pond water was what the lab described as “highly positive” for both cryptosporidium and Giardia. ( (

 In the end, three of the 20 human cases were confirmed to be caused by crypto, while the other 17 are considered probable cases.  Exposure is thought to have been from ingestion of the pond water while washing, dunking their head, and/or drinking, as well as exposure to the calf manure.  Not so surprisingly, we recommended the family not let their children swim in the pond anymore.

News articles:

Jordan Assenmacher


This entry was posted in Summer 2011, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

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