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Burger’s Lake Closes As Parasite Sickens Visitors

July 17, 2008

By Jan Jarvis, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Texas

Jul. 17–FORT WORTH — Burger’s Lake in west Fort Worth has closed while health officials investigate whether a waterborne parasite has sickened at least eight patrons at the popular swimming hole, Tarrant County Public Health announced today.

The lake has not been confirmed as the source of the cryptosporidiosis outbreak, but health officials suspect it is involved. The owner was cooperative and closed the facility Wednesday night, agency officials said.

Anyone who visited the lake after June 23 and has become ill should seek medical care, said Anita Kurian, epidemiology division manager for Tarrant County Public Health. Physicians will contact the health agency.

“Our main concern is that individuals who get sick may transmit it to others in the community,” she said. Public health officials said there have been isolated clusters of the illness in Tarrant County over the years, but nothing of this magnitude. They don’t know how many people may ultimately be infected.

The disease can spread when an infected person goes swimming for up to two weeks after symptoms have stopped, Kurian said. The parasite also can be ingested if water goes up a person’s nose, officials said.

Cryptosporidiosis, commonly known as “crypto,” can cause severe abdominal pain and diarrhea, Kurian said. It can also cause loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting. Dehydration can occur in young children, pregnant women and other vulnerable populations. Two adults have been briefly hospitalized due to the illness.

Dozens of people called the Star-Telegram after a story about the outbreak appeared on www.star-telegram.com.

Symptoms can be pretty rough, said Jennifer Seis of Arlington, who knows of at least 18 children and adults who became ill after a birthday party at the lake this month.

“Two of them have been the emergency room and everyone else is going to their doctor,” she said. “My child didn’t eat for a week and I’ve had to take off work because of this.”

Crystal Bailey of Dallas said she started feeling sick Sunday after visiting the lake over the July 4 weekend. “I have been sick, sick, sick,” said Bailey, 25. who had not visited her doctor yet. “I couldn’t even go to work.”

The parasite cryptosporidium thrives in bodies of recreational water, including fountains, oceans, lakes, ponds, spas, backyard pools and water parks, said William Blankenship, who works in environmental health at the Tarrant County Public Health.

It is found in the feces of infected people or animals and can contaminate soil, food, water or surfaces. Public drinking water has been eliminated as a cause of the illness.

The parasite is resistant to chlorine disinfection, Blankenship said. It can survive in the environment for weeks to years. Cryptosporidium is not killed by alcohol gels and hand sanitizers.

The illness came to the attention of health officials in early July after physicians started reporting the symptoms. But it’s a mystery as to how the outbreak got started, Kurian said. “Did people come to Burger’s Lake and get infected? Or did they bring it to Burger’s Lake,” she said.

The next step in the investigation is to see if more cases are identified and wait for the test results of samples that were sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Those results should be available Saturday, Kurian said.

Practicing healthy habits is the best way to prevent the infection.

“This is a risk you face whenever you go swimming in water,” Kurian said.

It was unclear how long Burger’s Lake would be closed. A recorded telephone message said only that the spring-fed lake would “reopen upon further notice.” Health officials that visited the lake Wednesday said it appeared to be well-maintained.

Anyone who becomes ill should seek medical attention so that physicians can contact the health department. Tarrant County Public Health is distributing information about prevention measures to operators of swimming pools, day care facilities and recreational water businesses.

The investigation is being conducted by Tarrant County Public Health, the Centers for Disease Control and the Texas Department of State Health Services.

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Copyright (c) 2008, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Texas

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