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Chemical-related hospital visits still rising

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Days after all water service has been restored, and with the immediate water crisis beginning to fade, the number of West Virginians seeking treatment in relation to the Elk River chemical leak continues to rise.

As of Thursday, 533 West Virginians had been evaluated at hospitals with symptoms they report as being associated with the chemical spill, according to the Department of Health and Human Resources. That's up nearly 30 percent since Saturday, the last time DHHR reported treatment numbers. On Saturday, DHHR reported that 411 patients had been seen and treated at 10 area hospitals.

The number of patients admitted to hospitals has also risen by 30 percent since Saturday. DHHR reports that 26 patients have been admitted and released at six area hospitals, up from 20 admittances on Saturday.

One additional patient has been admitted to a hospital out of the water crisis area, but with related symptoms.

The number of calls to the West Virginia Poison Center is up more than 34 percent since Saturday. As of Thursday, there had been 2,555 calls to the poison center, up from 1,903 calls as of Saturday.

Of the total calls, 2,008 were human related, 100 were for animals and the rest were informational only.

On Saturday, the governor's office de-emphasized the number of people receiving treatment, saying it was a very small number compared to the overall population and that no one has been seriously ill.

Dr. Letitia Tierney, the commissioner for the state's Bureau of Public Health, pointed to flu season, anxiety, and insufficient hand washing as reasons for the hospital visits.

Tierney also downplayed the burns and rashes that have been reported as resulting from the chemical leak, saying they were easily treated.

"We've been monitoring everyone who has presented to the hospital and what they've been complaining of is not a burn like you and I would think of as a burn," Tierney said Saturday. "Some doctors have described it as a 'solar burn' which is similar to a sunburn. Basically, it's red skin."

DHHR spokeswoman Allison Adler said that the agency will continue to monitor and analyze the medical charts of all visits related to the chemical leak.

"We will not be able to determine whether the numbers are truly related to the chemical until the surveillance is done," Adler wrote Thursday. "The surveillance will start soon, but will take some time to determine a link."

Reach David Gutman at david.gutman@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5119.


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