13 Scouts Get E. Coli While at Va. Camp

By Jonathan Mummolo
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 1, 2008

Health officials have confirmed that at least 13 boys, all but one from Northern Virginia, contracted E. coli bacterial infections while attending a popular Scout camp in Goshen, Va., last week, officials said yesterday.

The Virginia Department of Health began receiving reports of sick children on Sunday, when boys from about 70 troops returned home after a week at the Goshen Scout Reservation near Lexington, Va., about three hours from Washington. Two of the boys were hospitalized, officials said.

The source of the outbreak was still under investigation, said Christopher Novak, a Health Department medical epidemiologist who is looking into the incident. Symptoms of the infection include bloody diarrhea, fever, chills, nausea and vomiting, Novak said.

"This one is challenging in that it has multiple states involved, and the individuals there are fairly dispersed," he said. "We are trying to . . . as quickly as possible get a sense of how widespread the outbreak may be, how many people are ill."

Health officials in Maryland have confirmed one of the 13 cases, said Karen Black, spokeswoman for the state's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. A call to the District's Health Department was not immediately returned.

The 12 Northern Virginia boys -- a mix of Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts -- range in age from 10 to 14, Novak said. He said that about 18 more people have experienced some symptoms and might have been infected. Novak declined to identify the counties where the sick children live, citing privacy laws.

E. coli infections can cause dehydration and, in severe cases, can necessitate dialysis, Novak said. In rare cases, the infections can be fatal. Between January and June, the Virginia Department of Health has recorded 49 cases of E. coli of varying strains, Novak said. Antibiotics typically are not helpful, and infections are often treated by drinking fluids and taking pain relievers, Novak said.

The exposure appears to be limited to about 1,700 people who last week passed through Goshen, Novak said. Goshen comprises six Scout camps and serves 6,000 children each summer, said Alan Lambert, Scout executive of the Boy Scouts of America's National Capital Area Council.

Since the outbreak, Scout officials have taken steps to reduce the risk of further contamination by temporarily removing ground beef -- a common source of E. coli -- from camp menus; distributing hand sanitizers; and encouraging hand-washing and proper hygiene, Lambert said. There is also increased supervision for children who prepare their own food, to ensure proper cooking temperatures.

Novak said health officials are trying to determine whether infected Scouts ate the same tainted food or ingested contaminated fluid, such as lake water while swimming.

The reservation includes a 500-acre lake where swimming, sailing and canoeing are taught, and offers hiking, rock climbing and merit badge programs, Lambert said.

"On Monday the Virginia Department of Health gave us a call and said: 'We're coming out. We need to see you. We've got a problem,' " Lambert said. "Everybody's got a real heightened awareness."

Staff researcher Meg Smith contributed to this report.

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