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Wildwood Lake Contamination Remains a Mystery

 

Wednesday, September 20th, members of Lake Wildwood staff, Board and Lake Committee met with County representatives from the Health, Environmental Health and Community Development Departments to update all parties on the status of the ongoing E. coli investigation. Dr. Cutler, the County’s Health Officer and infectious disease expert, also attended.

Since an E. coli O157:H7 outbreak is very rare in fresh water lakes, the first topic discussed was the conclusion by the County that there was no other commonality among the 18 adults and children infected other than they ingested water at Commodore Beach between July 15th and July 23rd or were family members who were in close contact with those who did. We feel reasonably confident that sewage was not involved as the Sanitary District tested the lines around Commodore using three different techniques and found no leakages. There were no other signs of leakage anywhere near the beach area. Food commonality was ruled out based on a lengthy questionnaire filled out by the parties involved. The fact that these individuals were at Commodore over a period of 9 days seems to rule out that this outbreak was caused by a single event such as human contact or a fecal accident.

We asked the County if we could share this information in its questionnaire format (with names redacted) but they were not comfortable with that. We also asked specifically who went through the data and came to the conclusions from the County. It turns out that the public health nurses involved in these cases were responsible for the conclusions. We assume they conferred together in some manner. The State Health Dept also reviewed the data. At this point, we do not have the identities of those who were involved other than word of mouth or social media. We do not know how many were members or guests, although we suspect all or most were guests.

Other than the generic testing for E. coli indicators that is being done by both Lake Wildwood and the County, we have very limited test results back from outside entities. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) tested the water and sediment at Commodore Beach once for the O157:H7 strain. The water tested negative and sediment positive. Meadow Park Beach water was also tested once by CDC for the O157:H7 strain and was found to be positive with the genetic marker for a goose. Out of the three previous goose scat samples tested by California State Health Dept., one tested positive for the O157:H7 strain and a subsequent report showed it was the same strain that infected the individuals at the beach. Although this testing has been very limited, it does raise a level of concern for us.

Given the unusual and limited nature of this outbreak, neither Lake Wildwood nor the County has a great deal of experience as to protocol in a situation like this. The County has been working closely with the CDC for guidance on how to proceed and what should be the focus of this investigation. The CDC apparently is focusing more on testing point sources (in our case Deer Creek, Meadow Park Creek and Lake Wildwood Creek) rather than putting more emphasis on the goose situation. Tests are underway on the creek sources and we should have some results within a couple of weeks. We were very concerned about lack of follow up on the genetic marker testing regarding animal contamination and the County agreed to discuss that subject with CDC.

Generic E. coli indicator testing continues to show erratic results at the shoreline although the frequency and strength seem to be decreasing. Other locations show results well within the recreational limits. The County assured us they would have a more formal written plan in place soon that would more definitively outline further testing and when we could lift the restrictions and reopen the beaches. Given that we are fast approaching lake lowering, the chances this will happen this season are minimal.

All in all, it was a valuable and productive meeting and all parties agreed to meet again within two weeks.

 


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