Beach at Branbury State Park reopens after weekend health scare

SALISBURY— After closing the beach at Branbury State Park in Salisbury last Friday due to an outbreak of stomach illness, state officials reopened the beach on Monday saying the danger had passed.
Vermont State Parks officials closed the beach on Friday, Aug. 21, due to a suspected norovirus outbreak. The Vermont Department of Health as of Monday was still waiting for lab results to confirm the source of the illness.
The beach was reopened Monday, Aug. 24, at 9:48 a.m. after the health department confirmed that the outbreak and the conditions causing it had passed.
According to the Vermont Department of Health, 54 people who swam at the beach reported stomach illness, including nausea, stomach cramping and diarrhea. Most of those who reported the stomach illness were at the lake on Tuesday or Wednesday, Aug. 18 or 19. All who reported illness had somehow swallowed water or gone underwater. Visitors to the lake who merely waded in the water during the outbreak were not affected.
The source of the illnesses is thought to be human, rather than environmental. The water at Branbury State Park is tested weekly for bacteria, and the E. coli level as tested on Wednesday, Aug. 19, was among the lowest across the state’s beaches. It measured at 6 E. coli bacteria per 100 ml of water — well below the 235/100 ml level at which a beach is considered unsafe.
Norovirus is extremely infectious, said health department infectious-disease epidemiologist Bradley Tompkins. And even one dirty diaper or a handful of people who go back into the water too soon after an illness could cause this kind of outbreak. Once even a small amount of infected fecal matter gets into the swimming area, weather conditions and other environmental factors play a part, including sunlight, temperature, depth of the water, and water circulation, Tompkins said.
Last week was extremely hot, and there was no rain. The Branbury swimming area is especially wide and shallow— one of the reasons it’s such a popular spot for families with young children — and water warms up more in shallow areas, making conditions likelier for a viral or bacterial outbreak.
 “Based on the Vermont Department of Health and their recommendation — they were confident that the (Branbury) beach was safe due to a drop-off in reported illnesses and a rain event — the beach was reopened,” said Rick Hedding, the Forest, Parks and Recreation regional ranger supervisor for Branbury State Park. “As we move forward, the state parks are going to help promote safe swimming techniques and strategies.”
Common-sense ideas from both the state parks and the health department include frequent bathroom breaks for young children, checking swim diapers regularly and changing them in the park restrooms immediately, and being careful not to swallow water when you swim. Adults who’ve had a recent bout with diarrhea or similar intestinal illness are advised to stay out of the water until they’ve been well for a couple of days.
“What we’d encourage people to do is … do what you can to not get water in your mouth,” said Tompkins. “That would be our message for any beach goer in any part of Vermont when they’re swimming. It’s never really a good idea to ingest water wherever you happen to be swimming.”

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