CHARLESTON, W.Va. --Even as the last official water restrictions were lifted Saturday, more people were getting sick from exposure to the chemical that contaminated the Kanawha Valley's drinking water, according to numbers provided by a government official.
As of Saturday, a total of 411 patients had been treated at 10 hospitals for reported chemical exposure since Jan. 9, according to Allison Adler, a spokeswoman for the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources. Twenty patients had been admitted to four hospitals. None of them are still in the hospital and none of them were in critical condition, Adler said.
Those numbers have increased significantly since Thursday, when the DHHR said 317 had been treated and 14 had been hospitalized.
The West Virginia Poison Center had received 2,302 calls about the chemical leak by Saturday evening, Adler said. Of those, 1,862 were human-related, 98 were animal-related and the rest were requests for information only.
A "do-not-drink" order was lifted Saturday for Buffalo, Frazier's Bottom and Pliny, in Putnam County, after a previously issued "do-not-use" order had been lifted and then rescinded two days later.
The area had been cleared to use water between Tuesday afternoon and late Thursday, but that order was rescinded Friday morning after a fire hydrant in Buffalo tested above the 1-part-per-million level of "Crude MCHM," the coal-processing chemical that leaked into the Elk River in Charleston last week.
In a news release sent out Saturday by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's office, government officials pointed to anxiety, flu season and the inability of residents to consistently wash their hands with soap and water as reasons for the hospital visits.
"We're in the middle of flu and virus season," Dr. Letitia Tierney, commissioner of state Bureau of Public Health said in the release. "While the [hand] sanitizer is good for cleaning, it isn't great for eliminating a virus. Some people are getting these viruses, as many people do every winter. In addition, a lot of people are getting very anxious. Anxiety is a real diagnosis and it can be really hard on people and it's OK to be seen by a health professional to ensure you're OK."
Tierney also downplayed the reports of rashes and burns, saying they are easily treated with over-the-counter remedies.
"Some doctors have described it as a 'solar burn,' which is similar to a sunburn," she said in the release. "Basically, it's red skin. Everyone has different sensitivities, and as we move through the flushing process, sediment has been stirred up from your hot-water tank and the pipes."
Kimberly Elliott of Campbells Creek said she and her 7-month-old baby got sick from drinking the water on Thursday, Jan. 9, before the chemical leak and subsequent water-use ban were announced.
Elliott bathed her son, Justin, in the water and also used it in his formula. She said Justin immediately developed a rash and has had diarrhea since then.
"Every time I put a diaper on him, it was full," Elliott said.
Elliott provided photos documenting her son's symptoms.
Elliott took the boy to her pediatrician and then to CAMC General. She said she is disappointed with the way she was treated at CAMC. She said a doctor there wrote in her son's chart that Elliott had given her son a bath in hot water, which he attributed to causing the rash.
"I understand the doctors don't know about this, but they could have been a little bit more [understanding]," she said, adding that she knows better than to put her baby in hot bath water.
Her pediatrician took stool samples of the boy Friday and the family is waiting for test results to rule out the possibility of a viral infection.