WASHINGTON CITY – A social media post warning people to stay away from a park in Washington City quickly went viral Tuesday as water from a stream there was blamed for causing cases of E. coli and giardia infection.
The Southwest Utah Public Health Department confirmed that cases of E. coli have been reported.
Despite preliminary findings by health officials that the park’s water is within acceptable limits, testing continued in an effort to determine whether the strains of E. coli in the confirmed cases match the strains in the water.
The original Facebook post, which has since been deleted, warned the public not to go to Nisson Park, 30 S. 200 West, in Washington City. It told of how members of three families, including young children, were visiting the park for a family reunion a few weeks ago and have since experienced cases E. coli and giardia.
“The kids played in the water and now all 3 families have come down with Ecoli and (giardia),” the post stated. “(Two) kids are in the hospital and one is in critical condition and they don’t know if he will pull through. They are only 6 and 8 years old.”
Tera Burbidge Babcock, of Eagle Mountain, Utah, the author of the original post, told St. George News she deleted it per the family’s request. According to the original post, one of the family members is a close friend.
Babcock said the family is focused on the children’s health. One of the children is in Las Vegas receiving medical care while another is at Children’s Primary Hospital in Salt Lake City.
The Southwest Utah Public Health Department was made aware of the E. coli case from doctors who treated the family members, department spokesman David Heaton said.
Health officials contacted Mike Shaw, Washington City’s public works director, to inform him they had started testing water at the park on Monday.
The testing included irrigation water in the Tanner Ditch that cuts through the park, as well Mill Creek, the source of the irrigation water. The creek itself is set against a hillside on the park’s south side and runs along one of the city’s trails.
It is not uncommon for children to play in the ditch or the stream that feeds it, Washington City Manager Roger Carter said.
Because the creek serves as an irrigation source for that part of the city, he said there would be major concerns if dangerous levels of E. coli were found in the water.
Carter said he was unaware of the issue until Tuesday afternoon when he was contacted by City Councilman Daniel Cluff who had seen Babcock’s post shared on the Washington City Matters Facebook group and started making calls.
“We want to make sure we’re taking care of people,” Cluff said. “Public safety is a primary focus in what we do.”
As the afternoon wore on and Washington City residents were looking for answers over social media, the Health Department issued a statement disclosing its preliminary findings.
Washington City has been in contact with the Southwest Utah Public Health Department, who have been investigating several cases of E.coli infection. One of the possible sources of the infection is the open irrigation water in Nisson Park.
As these waters are untreated, it will be difficult to identify whether the infections came from the irrigation water, as most untreated surface water has some E.coli in it. The returned test results showed levels of E.coli well below the levels at which waters should be closed for health reasons. Even though the test has not identified reasons for concern about the waters in the park, we will monitor the situation as the Health Department continues its investigation to make sure the health of the community is protected.
The statement was shared on the city’s social media sites and groups.
For now, the ditch and stream at Nisson Park are considered safe, Carter said.
“All open waters have some level of E. coli, but these levels are not anything (the Health Department) would ever notify anyone about because they don’t reach the threshold of public safety concerns,” he said. “At the moment they don’t feel that any of this at Nisson Park meets any of that threshold.”
Concerning the city’s culinary water sources, Carter said they city tests regularly for any hint of contamination.
Though the waters at Nisson Park may have been cleared by the Health Department, Heaton said additional testing will continue with possible updates posted on the department’s website.
Heaton said the Health Department would not release any information on the family members affected by the E. coli cases.
“Our hearts go out to the family that’s dealing with this, because irrespective of how this is contracted, it’s an extremely devastating and traumatic issue for them,” Carter said. “So we extend our sympathies to them.”
According to the Health Department, E. coli are common bacteria that can be spread to people when tiny pieces of feces enter the mouth through unwashed hands, contaminated soil, water or food.
Sources of infection include undercooked meat, unpasteurized dairy products, infected animals and manure. Most types of E. coli are harmless, but some strains are harmful to humans.
Individuals infected by E. coli can suffer symptoms that include severe stomach cramps, diarrhea (often bloody) and vomiting.
Most people recover within a week without treatment.
Some people who contract a particular strain of E. coli can develop a life-threatening complication called Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome, which can cause kidney failure. It is more common in children younger than 5 years of age and older adults, although people of any age can be affected.
Additional information on what E. coli is, does and how it can be treated and how infection can be prevented can be found on the Southwest Utah Public Health Department website.
Updated Tuesday, June 13, 10 a.m. to include video interviews.
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