Originally created 09/24/98

Bacteria sickens as many as 165 diners



WILLITS, Calif. -- Dozens of diners at five restaurants have been sickened by a debilitating bacterial infection more common to Third World nations.

At least 45 people have tested positive for the shigella bacteria and about 120 others so far are displaying symptoms, said Carol Mordhorst, a public health administrator for Mendocino County.

"We've had physicians calling in daily to report cases of ill people," she told the Santa Rosa Press Democrat on Tuesday.

The first case was reported Sept. 15. At least four people were hospitalized with high fever, severe nausea and dehydration. All were released and were being treated with antibiotics, physicians said.

The highly contagious shigella bacteria lives in human feces and is usually passed on when an infected person fails to adequately wash after using a restroom, Mordhorst said.

Although common in Third World countries with inadequate sewage systems, shigella is rare in California, said Bob Bishop, an environmental health specialist for neighboring Sonoma County. Normally a few residents are diagnosed every year but most contract it overseas, he said.

Investigators had found eight infected workers in five restaurants, Mordhorst said. She said some of them worked at more than one establishment. They were being treated and had been forbidden to return to work until the bacteria is eliminated.

All but one of the restaurants remained open in the community 125 miles north of San Francisco.