July 15, 2005
State health officials have confirmed five cases of shigellosis, a bacterial illness, in people who swam at Beltzville State Park in Carbon County during the July Fourth weekend.
Nine others cases of the ailment, which causes fever, diarrhea and stomach cramps, are suspected but have not been confirmed by laboratory tests, the state Health Department said Thursday.
All of the victims, who come from Lehigh, Northampton and Carbon counties, are recovering, the department said.
Shigella usually is linked to fecal matter or stagnant water.
The state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources routinely samples lake water on two consecutive days each week for bacteria that can indicate a health risk might exist, and follows established protocols on whether to close swimming areas.
Testing on July 3 and 4 did not indicate a need to close the beach, the Health Department said.
The lake, which attracts 400,000 to 500,000 visitors a year, remains open to swimmers, but water will be sampled daily on a temporary basis.
The Health Department has asked physicians to consider the possibility of shigellosis when evaluating patients with diarrhea, and to determine whether they swam at Beltzville.
The incubation period for the illness is usually one to three days, but may rarely range from 12 hours to seven days.
It is the first announced case of shigellosis linked to Beltzville since the lake was the source of a large outbreak of the illness a decade ago.
In 1995, about 70 people reported suffering symptoms of shigellosis after swimming in the lake. After the cases were reported in late August, the lake was closed for the rest of the season.
Beltzville also was the site of a serious outbreak of the bacteria in 1988, when nearly 1,000 people got sick ó at least one of whom had to be hospitalized ó and the lake was closed for eight days in July.
And Beltzville also has had problems with bacteria contamination for the last two years.
Last summer, the lake was closed at the end of May because tests showed high levels of E. coli and other dangerous bacteria. It remained closed for more than a week over the usually crowded Memorial Day holiday until bacteria levels fell.
The lake also was closed to swimmers in June 2003 because of high fecal coliform bacteria levels, but the ban lasted only four days.
Officials said the E. coli and other bacteria probably came from geese, overflowing septic systems or agricultural runoff into feeder streams. The bacteria also are present in soil.