City says contact not an investigation

Updated: July 29, 2004, 8:23 PM ET
Associated Press

NEW YORK -- New York City health officials are questioning doctors for the New York Yankees about an intestinal parasite that may have sickened three players and at least one family member.

Yankees slugger Jason Giambi has said he is being tested for the parasite after being plagued by symptoms for the last couple of months and being out of the lineup for almost a week.

Giambi's wife, Kristian, and Yankees pitcher Kevin Brown also have been diagnosed with the parasitic illness, according to Giambi.

A third player, right fielder Gary Sheffield, was stricken in June with intestinal symptoms that were attributed to "stomach flu" at the time, and Giambi originally blamed Sheffield for his illness. Sheffield was so ill that his wife drove him to the ballpark for one game, but he was unable to play.

New York City Department of Health & Mental Hygiene officials said their contact with the team's physician is not an investigation. They said they had been in touch with the team doctor earlier and are attempting to follow up with him and other doctors who are involved.

"At this point it is a private matter as opposed to a public health matter," department spokesman Sid Dinsay said Thursday.

The team had no comment on the health officials' questions.

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said Giambi would stay at home while the team awaited test results.

Giambi was out of the starting lineup for the sixth straight game when the Yankees opened an 11-game homestand Thursday night against Baltimore.

Earlier Thursday, Cashman said he expected Giambi to be at the ballpark. Later, however, he said he got a call from the All-Star first baseman saying "he didn't feel well and thought he should stay at home."

Giambi didn't start eight straight games around the time of his diagnosis on June 29, and has repeatedly said that he's been feeling weak.

"Until he finds out completely, he's curious, worried," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "He's not feeling the way he should."

The suspected parasite, Entamoeba histolytica, is usually seen in people from poor countries, not rich ballplayers. It's a single-celled bug called a protozoan.

It causes an illness called amebiasis (am-mee-BI-uh-sis). Typical symptoms are bloody diarrhea and low abdominal pain, starting two days to up to a month after infection.

People usually catch it from traveling in a country where it is common, eating or drinking tainted food or water, or having close contact with someone who is infected. It's rarely fatal when properly treated with a two-drug combination for about 2½ weeks, but it can cause a lot of misery.

"Patients will have several days to weeks to months of problems with it," said Dr. Bill Petri, chief of infectious diseases at the University of Virginia School of Medicine, one of the nation's top experts on the illness.

Outbreaks of it are relatively rare. In 1994, a cross-connection between waste water lines and a drinking water source for a Tennessee prison led to an outbreak that sickened 42 inmates.

The germ is both underdiagnosed and often mistakenly diagnosed in lab samples, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 1983, 38 people in Los Angeles were sick in what health officials thought was an amebiasis outbreak, but only two turned out to have the illness after tests were done.

The germ kills cells lining the gut.

"What it can do is basically cause ulcers in the intestine," similar to Crohn's disease or inflammatory bowel disease, Petri said.

And if it's initially misdiagnosed as one of these or as colitis and treated with prednisone, "it weakens the immune system and makes the condition worse," he said.

No one has said what treatment Giambi received.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press