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Glut of gastrointestinal illnesses in people who visited Lake Anna under investigation

Courtesy of Virginia DCR.

A cluster of gastrointestinal illnesses have plagued people who visited the Lake Anna area over Memorial Day weekend, according to the Virginia Department of Health.

VDH has received numerous reports of GI illness, mainly in children, and some of the ill people have been diagnosed with Escherichia coli, or E. coli infections.

An E. coli infection may cause stomach cramps and diarrhea, often watery or bloody. Additional symptoms may include vomiting, fever and chills.

In severe cases, the infection can damage organs including the kidney and lead to hemolytic uremic syndrome, or HUS.

Clinical evaluation and treatment of patients is ongoing.

All potential causes of illness, including lake water and food exposures, are being investigated.

“We hope that those hospitalized continue to recover and can return home to their families soon,” said Olugbenga O. Obasanjo, MD, Rappahannock Health District health director.

“This is an ongoing investigation with the health department, and we will likely continue to learn about the situation in the coming days.”

While all the ill people confirm swimming or other water exposures in Lake Anna, VDH does not have enough information at this time to confirm that exposure to the lake, or any specific portion of the lake, is the cause of the illnesses.

Water testing of the lake to evaluate present concentrations of bacteria, and to determine whether there is a public health risk, is being conducted.

The illnesses are not suspected as Harmful Algal Bloom related, as this pathogen is not associated with HABs.

There are indications of some algae activity which are typical for this time of year.

Expert: Use caution when swimming

Because the investigation is ongoing, VDH does not have enough information to support a swimming advisory; however, it does encourage caution when swimming.

“As we head to pools, lakes and beaches to enjoy the warmer weather and spend time with our families, it is important to remember to take precautions to prevent illness,” Obasanjo said. “Showering before and after swimming, washing your hands before eating and being sure not to drink the lake water are some of the ways to stay healthy this summer. It is also important not to swim if you have diarrhea.”

Children may need extra monitoring and reminders to follow these precautions.

Reporting GI issues after visiting Lake Anna

If you were in the Lake Anna area on Memorial Day weekend or since and experienced gastrointestinal illness (such as stomach cramps and diarrhea), contact your local health department and seek medical care if you are still experiencing symptoms.

Tips to prevent illness in natural waters

Natural waters such as rivers, lakes, and oceans contain germs and contaminants, which can cause illness.

  • Never drink untreated water
  • Don’t swim if skin has cuts or open wounds
  • Wash hands after using the bathroom
  • Wash hands before preparing and eating food
  • Avoid swimming near storm drains (pipes that drain polluted water from streets)
  • Avoid swimming if vomiting or have diarrhea
  • Do not go in water if there is a green film on the water
  • Shower or bathe after swimming to wash off possible germs and contaminants
  • Avoid swimming for three days after a heavy rain (Germs can come from overflowing sewage, polluted storm water and runoff from land)
  • Properly dispose of human waste by discharging boat sewage at marinas with a pump-out unit or dump station

Visit www.SwimHealthyVA.com for more healthy and safe swimming tips.

Crystal Graham

Crystal Graham

Crystal Abbe Graham is the regional editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1999 graduate of Virginia Tech, she has worked for nearly 25 years as a reporter and editor for several Virginia publications, written a book, and garnered more than a dozen Virginia Press Association awards for writing and graphic design. She was the co-host of "Viewpoints," a weekly TV news show, and co-host of Virginia Tonight, a nightly TV news show. Her work on "Virginia Tonight" earned her a national Telly award for excellence in television.