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Outbreak spurs water park rules

GENEVA — Following a parasitic outbreak that has affected more than 3,200 people in 33 counties statewide, state Health Department officials have decided to create regulations for water parks throughout New York.

“We’re going to put emergency regulations for the parks in the system which have never been there before,” said State Health Commissioner Antonia Novello, who will focus on three areas of concern: operations, sanitary standards and design standards.

For example, Novello noted she will review systems which recirculate water, as opposed to drawing in fresh water, for use.

The parasite cryptosporidium was found in the two holding tanks that recycle water in the spray park at Seneca Lake State Park, where the outbreak originated. The spray park was closed down Aug. 15.

Novello added that state officials are still investigating how cryptosporidium entered the spray park’s holding tanks, but added that reports indicate several park patrons engaged in unhygienic practices that could have triggered the outbreak.

“Mothers were changing diapers in the water park and washing the rear of the babies in the park,” she said.

Officials hope to prepare a draft of the emergency regulations by November, said state Director of Public Affairs Rob Kenny.

“Because they’re emergency in nature, they would take effect immediately to protect public health,” he said.

Both the Public Health Council — which considers any state matter relating to the preservation and improvement of public health and is responsible for the promulgation of regulations under the state Sanitary Code — and the general public will have an opportunity to make suggestions to the proposal following its implementation.

The number of reported illnesses possibly linked to the park is now at 3,297 cases — including 415 confirmed reports — according to official statistics released Friday. No one has died and 33 people have been hospitalized.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, this could be one of the worst outbreaks of a waterborne sickness in the United States in a decade.

The last time a similar outbreak affected more people — nearly 5,500 — was in 1995 in Georgia. Contaminated drinking water in the Milwaukee area sickened more than 400,000 people in 1993.

Symptoms of cryptosporidiosis include diarrhea, abdominal cramping, nausea, vomiting, fever, headache and loss of appetite.

Novello said she is particularly worried that Labor Day festivities will renew the spread of the highly contagious disease. She is urging people to follow stringent hygiene practices, which include washing hands after using the bathroom, and disinfecting surfaces such as tabletops, diaper changing tables and toys.

Anyone experiencing gastrointestinal discomfort should not go swimming or handle food, added Novello, who believes the parasite is now being transmitted primarily through person-to-person contact.

Because those recovering from the disease remain contagious for up to three weeks after they feel better, sufferers are also advised to avoid public areas — particularly pools — for several weeks.

There is a light at the end of the tunnel said Novello, who noted the number of confirmed cases appears to be declining.

“The bad news is that we have 3,200 [reported cases]. The good news is not all of them are crypto,” remarked Novello, who said more and more people’s stool cultures indicate the presence of an unrelated contaminant, such as salmonella.

Individuals who think they have contracted the illness are encouraged to call 539-1920 in Seneca County; (585) 396-4343 in Ontario County; 946-5749 in Wayne County; and (585) 274-6079 in Monroe County.

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