Over 500 individuals fell ill with gastrointestinal illness possibly from a zip line tour in Tennessee.

Investigations are still ongoing to determine the exact cause of the illnesses, and how it spread to all who fell ill.

Zip Line Tour Illnesses

On Thursday, the Tennessee Department of Health announced that its investigation on the outbreak of illnesses linked to the CLIMB Works Zipline Canopy Tour is still ongoing. As of the announcement, it is said that over 500 people who visited the tour site have reported gastrointestinal illnesses since June 15.

Of the reports, several of the people who fell ill tested positive for Norovirus, while one tested positive for both norovirus and E.coli. According to one of them, along with her niece and nephew, they did not know what caused the vomiting and other symptoms until she read an article about other people who also fell ill after visiting the tour site.

She stated that the source of the illness might have been the drinking water that was provided to them during the tour.

Outbreak Cause Still Unknown

That said, authorities still cannot point to a specific cause of the outbreak while investigations are underway, and further state that while norovirus is easily detected in stool samples during outbreaks, it is more difficult to detect in food and water.

In addition, other illness sources such as person-to-person transmission and surface contamination may also have contributed to the outbreak.

“At this time we cannot point to one simple cause of this outbreak,” said John Dunn, DVM, Ph.D., the Tennessee Department of Health’s Deputy State Entomologist, putting on hold the initial guesses that it was largely well water provided at the venue that caused the illnesses.

However, water testing at the site revealed traces of fecal contamination in the site’s water system, and additional testing has confirmed the presence of E.coli. Further testing is currently being done to check for the presence of other bacteria, virus, and parasites. The state’s Health Department notes that the facility is fully cooperating in the investigation.

Norovirus And E. coli

Norovirus is a contagious virus that can affect anyone, with the children and the elderly more prone to more serious symptoms. The virus causes inflammation in the stomach, intestines, or both, which then leads to vomiting, stomach pain, nausea, and diarrhea. A person may get norovirus from contaminated food or water, or from contact with an infected person or contaminated surface.

On the other hand, E. coli is a naturally occurring bacteria in the intestines of animals and people, and are often harmless. However, E. coli is a large group of bacteria, and some phenotypes can cause illnesses such as diarrhea, respiratory illness, pneumonia, and urinary tract infection. Just like norovirus, E. coli can be contracted by ingesting contaminated food or water, or by contact with infected humans or animals.

In the case of the outbreak at the zip line, authorities found evidence of Enteropathogenic E. coli in the water, which is one of the six pathotypes associated with diarrhea. That said, investigations are still ongoing to determine how exactly the illnesses spread.

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