Cases of shigellosis linked to lake at state park in Carbon County.
By Chris Parker
Of The Morning Call
Dirty diapers may be the source of an outbreak of bacterial illness in at least five people who swam at Beltzville State Park in Carbon County during the Fourth of July weekend, officials said Friday.
Nine other cases of shigellosis, which causes fever, diarrhea and stomach cramps, are suspected but have not been confirmed by laboratory tests, according to the state Health Department.
Recent tests have shown low levels of bacteria in Beltzville Lake’s water, so it’s open for swimming.
Dirty diapers discarded near the water’s edge or on babies playing in the lake also were suspected in a 1995 outbreak that sickened about 70 people, said Andre Weltman, a Health Department public health doctor.
”In 1995, we observed diapers left at the edge of the lake,” Weltman said. ”Over the July Fourth weekend, we can’t be sure, but it’s a good guess there may have been diapers changed near the lake. We know they were left sitting there, and may have been washed down into the lake.”
Weltman said officials do not believe the bacteria was in food or came from the park’s sewer system.
”Be smart. Don’t leave yucky, dirty things at the edge of the lake. They can make people sick,” Weltman said.
Park Manager Tony Willoughby said curbing slovenly behavior is difficult.
”We are considering posting signs to make sure children wear waterproof pull-ups and that people check often for dirty diapers” and change them promptly, Willoughby said.
Victims of the July Fourth outbreak, who come from Lehigh, Northampton and Carbon counties, are recovering, the Health Department said. Medical providers are required to report cases of shigellosis to the department, spokesman Richard McGarvey said.
Doctors asked people with the illness about recent food, swimming and other activities, and Beltzville Lake was the common denominator, McGarvey said.
There were almost 1,000 cases of the illness in the state last year.
The bacteria is borne by fecal matter, human or animal.
”The bacteria are shed in feces and in some fashion or another, make it back into another person’s mouth,” Weltman said.
”If someone has diarrhea, they should not be swimming in public bathing places. Also, we are very concerned with having diaper-age children in the water and changing diapers near it.”
The lake, which attracts 400,000 to 500,000 visitors a year, remains open to swimmers, but water will be sampled for the presence of the bacteria E. coli daily on a temporary basis.
Chris Novak, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, said E. coli also is an ”indicator of fecal matter. Both [bacteria] are borne by fecal matter.”
The most recent testing at Beltzville was July 10 and 11. The results showed a maximum of 50 parts per 100 milliliters of E. coli. State beaches are closed if levels exceed 235 parts per 100 milliliters.
On Friday, Mike Cunningham of New York City arrived at the lake with his girlfriend, a friend and five young children. Cunningham said he didn’t know of the July Fourth outbreak and wasn’t worried.
”To begin with, everybody’s got to eat their 10 pounds of dirt before they die,” he said. ”I know I already have.”
According to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most people infected by shigella develop diarrhea, fever, and stomach cramps starting a day or two after they are exposed. The diarrhea is often bloody. Shigellosis usually resolves in five to seven days.
People who are infected may have no symptoms, but may still pass the shigella bacteria to others. Shigellosis can usually be treated with antibiotics. People with mild infections will usually recover quickly without antibiotic treatment. Over-the-counter antidiarrheal medicines can make the illness worse, according to the CDC.