Health officials in Virginia are currently investigating a wave of severe gastrointestinal illnesses that have been reported in children following a visit to a popular lake over Memorial Day weekend, with some of them having to be hospitalized. The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) has stated that individuals who were in the water at Lake Anna have been diagnosed with E. coli infections, which can lead to symptoms such as stomach cramps, diarrhea, vomiting, fever, and chills. In more severe cases, the infection can cause organ damage, particularly to the kidneys.

While most strains of E. coli are harmless, some can result in illness, as noted by the Centers for Diseases and Infections. One parent, Judy Inglett, revealed that her 15-year-old daughter fell ill after returning from Lake Anna, requiring multiple rounds of dialysis since being admitted to the hospital. Inglett’s daughter was diagnosed with hemolytic uremic syndrome, a rare condition that affects kidney and blood clotting functions in infected individuals.

The VDH has been actively working to investigate the cause of these illnesses, including potential exposure to the lake water and food. Lake Anna is a large freshwater inland reservoir in Virginia, covering 13,000 acres and situated 72 miles south of Washington, D.C. While swimming, fishing, and boating are permitted on the lake, the VDH has not yet confirmed whether exposure to the lake or a specific area of the lake is responsible for the illnesses.

Water testing is currently being conducted to assess bacteria concentrations in the lake and determine if there is an ongoing public health risk. It is important to note that the illnesses are not believed to be related to Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs), as the pathogen does not typically associate with HABs.

Another parent, Nate Hiner, shared that his 8-year-old twins were admitted to Children’s National Hospital after experiencing similar symptoms. His daughter required blood and platelet transfusions, with Hiner suspecting that their illnesses stemmed from their lake visit over Memorial Day weekend. While swimming, fishing, and boating are permitted on Lake Anna, some residents have expressed concerns about potential contamination, particularly due to the large number of people who dock their boats at a sandbar and may use the water for various purposes.

Although the VDH has not issued a swimming advisory, they are urging caution when swimming in the area. It is essential to take precautions such as showering before and after swimming, washing hands before eating, and refraining from drinking lake water to prevent illnesses. Additionally, individuals should avoid swimming if experiencing diarrhea, as waterborne germs can lead to minor or severe illnesses.

As we approach the summer season and spend time outdoors, it is crucial to prioritize safety and follow guidelines to protect against waterborne illnesses. By taking simple steps like practicing good hygiene and avoiding ingesting lake water, individuals can reduce the risk of falling ill. Following these precautions can help ensure a safe and enjoyable summer for families and visitors to recreational water bodies.