A popular lake in Fulton County has been closed to all water-based activities as officials investigate the source of several E. coli cases. There are now at least 11 cases involving people who reported swimming in the lake at Cowans Gap State Park last month.
Dr. Stephen Ostroff, acting state Physician General, says they’re conducting an extensive investigation to confirm that the lake is the source and to determine what happened, so corrective measures can be taken. He says in the cases they’re aware of, swimming in the lake is the one factor they all have in common.
Dr. Ostroff says waterborne outbreaks of E. coli have occurred over the years and have even involved municipal water supplies. He says any type of water can become contaminated with E. Coli 0157. He says it doesn’t take very much of the bacteria to cause infection, so even very low level contamination can result in people becoming ill. He says the most common factor was people swallowing the water.
All State Park lakes are tested on a regular basis. The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources says only one sampling at Cowans Gap State Park Lake since 2006 has resulted in a closing of the lake’s beaches. There was a high reading in July that resulted in a closing for part of the day.
Terry Brady, spokesman for the department, says the testing was their barometer that the lake was OK. He says results were consistently good and consistently low, so now they have to find out, if the infections are linked to the lake, why they were getting good test results.
State Health officials are asking anyone who has been in the lake and experienced diarrheal illness, especially if it’s bloody, to contact them. It can take 1 to 7 days after exposure for symptoms to develop.