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Shiga Producing Toxin in Lake Anna Virginia

Posted in E. coli,Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome,Our Blog on June 25, 2024

Memorial Day weekend is a time when many families in the Lake Anna area of Virginia hit the water. It is usually such a busy time and the waters are packed with people, boats, jet skis and people having the time of their lives. This Memorial Day weekend was different for so many families in the days and weeks to follow.

The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) is working with local and state partners to investigate an outbreak of Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC) in people who were in the Lake Anna area on and after the Memorial Day weekend (May 24–27, 2024).

STEC infection causes stomach cramps and diarrhea (often watery or bloody). Symptoms can also include vomiting, fever, and chills. In severe cases, the infection can damage organs, such as the kidneys. This can lead to hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS).

VDH’s investigation is ongoing. The exact cause of the outbreak has not yet been identified, but lake water is the likely source. Environmental pollution from heavy rains, livestock, failing septic systems, boating discharge, and swimmers are potential sources of illness when swimming in natural bodies of water. At this time, all primary cases* have been in people who reported exposure to the water in Lake Anna between May 24 and May 27.

Most people infected lived within the state of Virginia and were local to the lake while 4 cases were reported by people living out of the state. 76% were under the age of 18 with the range of patients being 1-45 years old.

The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) is assisting VDH in the outbreak investigation by collecting water samples at Lake Anna. Samples collected by DEQ on both June 11 and June 17 indicated that fecal bacteria concentrations (levels of bacteria associated with human or animal waste) in the water samples were well below a level of public health concern. This type of testing has some limitations. Water testing can provide clues about the water environment and level of general fecal contamination at a point in time, but they are not specific to all types of bacteria that can cause illness. At this time, it is not known whether the type of E. coli that causes severe illness, STEC O157, is present in Lake Anna.

DEQ conducts routine monthly water quality monitoring on Lake Anna from April to October each year. Water quality testing includes looking for fecal bacteria, specifically E.coli.

  • The most recent routine samples for E.coli  had been collected by DEQ on June 4, May 6, and April 2, and were taken near the Dam, at the Splits (down gradient from the State Park Beach), and mid-Lake (just below the Cocktail Creek area). The E.coli concentrations of each sample were so low that they could not be measured.
  • The most recent routine samples for E.coli collected by DEQ near the Sandbar were taken on March 12 (816 counts/100ml), February 20 (173 counts/100ml), and November 13, 2023 (10 counts/100ml).

Exposure to any natural water, including swallowing untreated water or swimming with open wounds, represents a possible health risk, even when sample results indicate the water is “safe” for swimming. Children under the age of five, older adults, pregnant women, and those with weakened immune systems are at higher risk of contracting illness from open waters. Open waters are likely to have some level of bacteria present because this water is not disinfected.

If you were in the Lake Anna area on Memorial Day weekend (May 24–27, 2024) or since and you experienced gastrointestinal illness (such as stomach cramps and diarrhea), contact your local health department and seek medical care if you are still experiencing symptoms.

To prevent illness when swimming and boating in natural bodies of water, like lakes, rivers, or oceans, people should consider these steps for before, during, and after water activities.

Before visiting natural bodies of water:

  • Check online before visiting the natural waters to see if the swim area is currently monitored, is under advisory, or has been closed for health or safety reasons. See the following:
  • Avoid swimming for three days after a heavy rain. Germs can come from overflowing sewage, polluted storm water and runoff from land.

While visiting natural waters:

  • Avoid swimming 
    • if you are sick with vomiting or diarrhea or if you have skin with cuts or open wounds
    • near storm drains (pipes that drain polluted water from streets).
    • in water if there is a green film on the water. Keep pets out as well. This film may indicate an algal bloom and some algae produce toxins that can make people sick.
    • near the vicinity of livestock
  • Never swallow untreated water. Natural bodies of water, like rivers, lakes, and oceans, contain germs and contaminants, which can cause illness.
  • Keep sand away from your mouth and children’s mouths. Sand contains germs that can cause illness if swallowed.
  • Do not poop in the water.
    • Take kids on bathroom breaks and check diapers in bathrooms or diaper-changing areas.
  • Wash your hands after using the bathroom and before preparing and eating food. This is particularly important if you have been playing in or touching sand.
  • For people with boats: Properly dispose of human waste by discharging boat sewage at marinas with a pump-out unit or dump station.

After visiting natural bodies of water:

  • Shower or bathe after swimming to wash off possible germs and contaminants.

If you’d like to know more about food safety topics in the news, like Shiga Producing Toxins in Lake Anna Virginia check out the Make Food Safe Blog. We regularly update trending topics, foodborne infections in the news, recalls, and more! Stay tuned for quality information to help keep your family safe, while The Lange Law Firm, PLLC strives to Make Food Safe!

By: Samatha Cooper