Va. Department of Health closes investigation into Lake Anna E. coli outbreak

After a new round of water tests, the Virginia Department of Health is closing its investigation into an E. coli outbreak at Lake Anna in Spotsylvania and Louis counties. The investigation started after 25 people reported coming down with the gastrointestinal illness after swimming in the lake over Memorial Day weekend.

The most recent testing on June 25 looked for the specific strain of the bacteria known as “Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC) O157.”

“We can’t tell whether or not on Memorial Day weekend if that was in the water, but we can tell you that it’s not an ongoing problem,” said Brookie Crawford, public information officer for the Virginia Department of Health.

Crawford said water samples were taken three times last month — on June 11, June 17 and June 25. The final sample was the only test that looked specifically for the strain believed to have sickened swimmers. Crawford said that doesn’t mean the lake isn’t the culprit.

“All of the people that were reported being sick, all reported being at the lake and having lake exposure over the Memorial Day weekend. So, it is likely that the lake was the source. We just can’t confirm that scientifically at this time,” she added.

Among those who fell ill was 15-year-old Ava Inglett from Warrenton, Virginia, who went into kidney failure as a result of the E. coli. The teenager has since been released from the hospital.

E. coli usually gets into the water from animal feces, so additional fecal bacteria tests were done. Those tests did return with levels high enough to cause concern for the public, Crawford said.

She warned the results do not rule out the existence of E. coli in the water and that risk of getting E. coli from swimming in the lake does exist.

Crawford said tips for staying safe while hanging out in the water include never swallowing untreated water and not swimming if you have open cuts or wounds on your skin. Also, if the water has a green film on top, don’t go in, and stay out of the water near storm drains, livestock or after heavy rains.

“The rains can pick up things like overflowing sewage, polluted stormwater and runoff from the land and make the water not safe for you to swim in,” she said.

Make sure to shower after swimming and wash your hands before handling food after a swim. If you have symptoms like vomiting or diarrhea, stay away from the water and seek medical attention.

“If you find that you’re feeling at all unwell, make sure you get out of the water and see a doctor as soon as possible,” she said.

The VDH said it will conduct “enhanced public health surveillance” through July 17, due to upcoming Fourth of July celebrations.

This E. coli outbreak is unrelated to the situation at the North Anna Branch of Lake Anna in Louisa County, where a swimming advisory remains in place due to harmful algae bloom.

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Mike Murillo

Mike Murillo is a reporter and anchor at WTOP. Before joining WTOP in 2013, he worked in radio in Orlando, New York City and Philadelphia.

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