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Children swimming in Virginia lake hospitalized after E. coli, gastrointestinal illnesses

A cluster of gastrointestinal illnesses, including E. coli, have been reported in children who were at a popular lake in Virginia over Memorial Day weekend.

Health officials in Virginia are investigating a surge of brutal gastrointestinal illnesses reported in children who were at a popular lake over Memorial Day weekend, with a number of them ending up in a hospital.

The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) says that some people who were in the water at Lake Anna have been diagnosed with Escherichia coli (E. coli) infections, which cause stomach cramps and diarrhea. Symptoms can also include vomiting, fever, chills and, in severe cases, the infection can damage organs such as the kidneys. 

Most kinds of E. coli are harmless, but some can make someone sick, the Centers for Diseases and Infections said.

Judy Inglett, a mother from Fauquier County, said her 15-year-old daughter came down with symptoms after she returned from Lake Anna, and she has had at least two rounds of dialysis since being hospitalized.

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"It’s a parent’s worst nightmare," Inglett told Fox 10 News. "She left on that Friday, on that weekend, and she was fine. And now she is, like, fighting for her life."

Inglett said her daughter has been diagnosed with hemolytic uremic syndrome, a rare but serious disease that affects the kidneys and blood clotting functions of infected people.

"She’s in kidney failure. I wouldn’t even let my dogs swim in that lake. There is definitely something going on. It’s not safe," Inglett told the outlet.

The VDH said in a press release last week that clinical evaluation and treatment of patients is ongoing. 

The agency said that it is investigating all potential causes of illness, including lake water and food exposures. Lake Anna is one of the largest freshwater inland reservoirs in Virginia, covering an area of 13,000 acres and is located 72 miles south of Washington, D.C. 

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"While all the ill people confirm swimming or other water exposures in Lake Anna, VDH does not have enough information at this time to confirm that exposure to the lake, or any specific portion of the lake is the cause of the illnesses," the VDH press release read. "Water testing of the lake to evaluate present concentrations of bacteria, and to determine whether a public health risk may be ongoing, is being conducted."

The illnesses are not suspected as Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB) related, as the pathogen is not associated with HABs, the VDH said. Fox News Digital has reached out to the department for updates.

Another parent, Nate Hiner, told Fox 10 News that his 8-year-old twins were sent to Children’s National Hospital. His daughter received blood and platelet transfusions.

Hiner also said he believes the symptoms stem from their Memorial Day weekend lake visit.

"It’s terrifying to just go from having a fun day at the lake to potentially needing dialysis in an 8-year-old child. It's just unfathomable to think of as a parent," he told the outlet. 

Swimming, fishing and boating are allowed on the reservoir that spans Louisa, Spotsylvania and Orange counties, according to Virginia State Parks.

Some neighbors told Fox 10 News that they were not surprised to learn the lake might be contaminated since large groups of people dock their boats at a sandbar, with some using the water when they need to use the bathroom.

The VDH said it did not have enough information to support a swimming advisory but does encourage caution when swimming.

"As we head to pools, lakes, and beaches to enjoy the warmer weather and spend time with our families, it is important to remember to take precautions to prevent illness," Dr. Olugbenga O. Obasanjo, the Rappahannock health district health director, said.

"Showering before and after swimming, washing your hands before eating, and being sure not to drink the lake water are some of the ways to stay healthy this summer."

"It is also important not to swim if you have diarrhea. Children may need extra monitoring and reminders to follow these precautions. Germs in water can cause minor illnesses (rashes, diarrhea) or more serious illnesses that last longer than vacation."

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