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Norovirus concerns at state park

By Jason Schreiber
Union Leader Correspondent

August 23. 2013 9:12PM

NOTTINGHAM — The state is testing the water at Pawtuckaway State Park and Campground for possible norovirus contamination after about 20 people fell ill while camping at the lake last weekend.

The state’s public health department ordered the testing of lake and drinking water at the popular park on Lake Pawtuckaway to check for the presence of norovirus after campers developed gastrointestinal symptoms, according to Dr. Jose Montero, state public health director.

The state generally doesn’t test for norovirus in water, but Montero said it’s conducting an “experimental” test that officials hope can be used in the future.

Norovirus is a highly contagious virus, more commonly seen during the winter months, that can cause stomach pain, nausea, diarrhea and vomiting.

Concerns were raised after state officials were notified of the illness that struck two different groups of campers last weekend.

Approximately 20 people between the two groups, including several children, experienced diarrhea and vomiting, state officials said. A lifeguard who swam in the water earlier in the week also reported feeling ill.

Steffany Vallo, an epidemiologist with the state public health department, said those who were sickened became ill within 24 to 48 hours after visiting the park but their conditions have now improved.

According to Montero, it’s possible for norovirus to be spread in the water through vomit or feces.

State health officials are also looking into the possibility of food poisoning, but Montero said “we believe this is going to be norovirus.”

While there’s been no confirmation of norovirus in the water, the state Department of Environmental Services decided to post a “preemptive illness” advisory at the park Tuesday notifying swimmers of potential illness, said Sonya Carlson, beach program coordinator with DES. The action was taken “out of an abundance of caution,” she said.

After receiving no additional reports of illness since Tuesday, Carlson said the advisory was lifted Friday morning.

The state performed typical E.coli testing of the lake water this week, but the results showed only low levels of bacteria, Carlson said. Testing also showed no indication of fecal contamination.

Even when water is tested and levels of E.coli are low, Carlson said people still need to take precautions by washing their hands and not drinking lake or pool water.

“There are risks everywhere. You never know what’s going to be out there. A little bit of precaution can prevent something bad from happening,” she said.

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