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Santa Ana River Conservancy (California State Coastal Conservancy)
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Riverside County Officials Warn Public About Deadly Bacteria in Santa Ana River

Medieval-era diseases are cropping up in California communities where homeless and transients camp

By Michelle Mears, August 15, 2019 3:07 pm

Fear of the deadly Shigella bacteria has prompted health officials in Riverside County to close off Downey Park and all access to the Santa Ana River Trails and Recreation areas.

The order was made under the direction of the Riverside County Environmental Health and Disease Control Department after multiple reports were made of people infected with the Shigella Bacteria.

This bacteria is responsible for an estimated 600,000 deaths worldwide. Riverside County’s Director for Disease Control, Barbara Cole reported they are testing to confirm if Shigella is in the 96-mile long Santa Ana River.

The river begins in the San Bernardino mountains and ends its journey west when it dumps into the Pacific Ocean. Most of the river winds through urban areas known to be inhabited by homeless encampments.

Park Rangers posted placards in Spanish and English to notify the public of the possible dangerous conditions while they continue to test the river for the deadly bacteria. County officials reported up to six patients have tested positive for Shigella. According to a press release from Jurupa Valley city officials, two of the people infected are Orange County residents who were in the riverbed.

“The public’s safety is always paramount. We advise the public to obey all posted signage closing access trails and entrances to the affected portion of the Santa Ana River,” said Riverside County Public Health Officer Dr. Cameron Kaiser.

The Riverside County Department of Environmental Health has also reached out to state agencies to assist with the investigation.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, Shigellosis is an illness caused by bacteria called Shigella that cause diarrhea in humans. Symptoms of Shigellosis can also include, fever, and abdominal cramps which usually occur within four days after exposure to Shigella, and last five to seven days. Most people with Shigellosis recover completely. Anyone with concerns about illness should contact their healthcare provider.

The spread of Shigella can be stopped by frequent and careful hand washing with soap and water.

The unofficial name of the area that offers access to the Santa Ana River in Jurupa is called “Pedley Beach”. This access point is frequented by local residents and has also been the site for homeless. A history of fecal contamination in the river and concerns with transients prompted the EPA to test the river’s water a few months ago.

In the spring two environmental groups, the Inland Empire Water Keeper and Rivers and Land Conservancy combined to form the Clean Camp Coalition to determine if the homeless encampments are the cause of the dangerous bacteria’s being found in various sections of the riverbed.

Diseases that once plagued the medieval era or todays third world countries are now cropping up in communities all throughout California where the homeless and transient population set up camp. Diseases like hepatitis A, typhus and shigella are once again threats to the general public.

The growing homeless population is the root cause of the resurgence in bacterial infections. In Riverside County those living in the streets have increased according to a 2019 survey by 22%. In January, volunteers counted 2,811 person homeless and only 766 of those were staying in shelters.

The fear among residents in communities like Jurupa Valley is that the urban homeless are moving inland into more rural communities.

Michelle Mears

Michelle Mears is a reporter in Southern California who has covered news in Riverside and San Diego County for 20 years.
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