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PUBLIC HEALTH

3,166 people in Catalonia left with gastroenteritis from bottled water

Health officials say a norovirus was found in patients who got sick from a product made in nearby Andorra

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An Eden water dispenser, with a warning in Catalan not to drink.

A bout of gastroenteritis caused by bottled water has affected 3,166 people in Catalonia, according to the regional health department.

The origin of the intoxication is a norovirus that was discovered in bottles distributed throughout Barcelona and Tarragona on April 7, 8, 11, 12 and 13.

The water was drawn from a natural spring called Arinsal, in the principality of Andorra between Spain and France. It was distributed in Catalonia by a company named Eden.

Eden notes that it receives the sealed bottles from Andorra and merely distributes them

Health authorities are calling all businesses that sold the product in a bid to tally a final number of affected customers. Because the gastroenteritis had mild effects, not all patients went to the doctor, department sources said.

The first tests conducted on patient samples show the presence of a norovirus, a microorganism that is responsible for half of all common gastroenteritis. It is present in animal droppings, which can contaminate the water.

Investigators are trying to determine how the virus ended up in that particular water source.

A recidivist spring

J.M.Q.

This is not the first time that Arinsal spring, in Andorra, has been the target of public health officials. In 2003, the company that managed the spring at the time was sentenced to pay damages to a man who had sustained esophagus lesions after drinking from one of its bottles. Microbiology tests found remains of caustic soda in the water.

Public health officials and the distributing firm – which pulled six suspicious shipments off the market – suspect the problem may lie at the water bottling plant in Andorra. The distributor, Eden, notes that it receives the sealed bottles from Andorra and merely distributes them.

The government of Andorra, which is carrying out the bulk of the investigation, insists that “microbiology analyses at the source, which are conducted daily according to regulatory parameters, are correct.”

But Andorran authorities are now taking samples at all levels of the production line in search of the norovirus. Samples will be sent for testing to a lab in the Catalan city of Girona.

English version by Susana Urra.

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