E. Coli outbreak puts group on alert

By: Angela Starke Email
By: Angela Starke Email

KNOX COUNTY, Tenn. (WVLT) - Summer is the perfect time to enjoy our lakes and water activities. But keeping those waterways clean of bacteria is a costly and daunting task.

The Fort Loudoun Lake Association tries to ensure cleanliness by testing for bacteria like E. Coli - but this year, there's a lack of funding.

Julie Costner with the association says she hopes to get money for the tests soon after a recent E. Coli outbreak in Northeast Tennessee of 10 confirmed cases. While none of the cases has a common link, according to health officials, the outbreak may be from food or swimming in recreational waters.

"We are almost a watchdog for Fort Loudoun Lake," said Costner. "We normally test in the spring and fall. This year, we are in the midst of looking for funding to be able to continue to test because we do keep records of where we test and that's something we want to maintain."

Steve Cauthen, who used to spend time on Fort Loudoun with his boat, now comes to enjoy the scenery.

"It's somewhere to come sun and take a little dip and relax," Cauthen said.

He's always been impressed with how clean the lake has been and has always felt safe with his family.

Costner says testing is essential to keep the lake clean - and avoid the potentially-deadly E.Coli.

Dr. Martha Buchanan with the Knox County Health Department says it's the toxins from E. Coli that can cause severe illness or even death.

"It is truly nasty. Very crampy illness," explains Dr. Buchanan. "People describe very significant cramping and the bloody diarrhea they have."

Dr. Buchanan says to avoid E. Coli you should:
- Wash hands properly for 20 seconds
- Cook meats fully - especially ground beef
- Wash fruits and vegetables
- And don't drink from recreational waters

"If you have runoff from the cow pasture into the lake or pool or somebody drinks the water, it just takes a few organisms to get into your GI track," she said.

Cauthen says he hopes the Fort Loudoun Lake Association will find money to test for E. Coli and other bacteria. And so does Costner.

"We want this commnity to be safe and feel secure when they're on the water," Costner said.

Health officials say you are more likely to get E. Coli from contaminated food than from swimming.

The outbreak in Northeast Tennessee is not at all related to an outbreak in Germany in which 22 people have died and hundreds have been sickened. There was also a confirmed death due to E. Coli of a two-year-old Virginia girl; however, investigators have not found a link to her and the cases in Northeast Tennessee.

The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation does water quality and fish tissue sampling in waterways. A department spokesperson says TDEC does test for E. Coli and there have been positive results from some waterways. There is a list of streams they advise people to avoid.

To see the list, click on the link.

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