HARRISBURG, Pa., July 31, 2015 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The Pennsylvania departments of Health and Conservation and Natural Resources today announced that, effective Saturday, Aug. 1, swimming will again be permitted in the lake at Cowans Gap State Park, Fulton County. The lake had been closed to swimming since July 22.
The decision to close the beach came after multiple reports of gastrointestinal illness suspected of being norovirus.
The Department of Health investigation revealed at least 95 persons were sickened with symptoms consistent with norovirus. Three of those cases were confirmed as norovirus, demonstrating the outbreak was due to that virus.
"We have confidence that this was a short term incident," said Secretary of Health Karen Murphy. "In addition to the latest testing, we found that among those who became ill, the vast majority reported having visited the beach nearly two weeks ago."
The illness was associated with swimming, especially among younger children who may have accidentally swallowed contaminated lake water. As is common in norovirus outbreaks, a few of those sickened may have acquired their infection from contact with an ill family member who swam in the lake.
Norovirus is an extremely contagious virus that is passed from the vomit or stool of an infected person, or through contaminated food or water. It can also be transmitted by touching a contaminated surface and then eating or drinking without washing your hands. Symptoms can include stomach pain, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
The beach was closed for a 10-day period as a precautionary measure to protect the public's health and safety until a thorough investigation could be completed. The 1,085-acre park has remained open to fishing, boating, hiking and other park activities.
"Safety of our park visitors always is our top concern," said DCNR Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn. "We know lake swimming, especially during this hot weather, is a very popular activity at Cowans Gap, but the welfare of swimmers justified the closure."
The secretary noted the lake's water has been tested regularly twice a week since swimming began this summer. In addition, the Bureau of State Parks is ramping up efforts to promote safe, hygienic swimming practices by park visitors through social media, and increased signage and fact sheets aimed at preventing health issues in the future.
Health and park officials ask for the public's help to prevent the spread of norovirus and other diseases. Persons with nausea, vomiting or diarrhea should stay out of the water. It is preferable that small children in diapers, whether or not they have diarrhea, be kept out of the water. And, as general advice, swimmers and other lake users are advised not to swallow lake water.
The Department of Health recommends that anyone who has visited the park and experiences diarrhea or vomiting should contact their health care provider, their local or state health department or the Pennsylvania Department of Health at 1-877-PA-HEALTH (877-724-3258).
Surrounded by Buchanan State Forest, Cowans Gap State Park draws more than 440,000 visitors annually. The 42-acre lake is complemented by a large campground, rustic cabins and many hiking trails.
Details on Pennsylvania's 117 state parks can be found at www.dcnr.state.pa.us (select State Parks). For more information about norovirus, visit www.health.pa.gov (select Diseases and Conditions) or call 1-877-PA HEALTH (877-724-3258).
MEDIA CONTACTS: Terry Brady, DCNR, 717-772-9101
Amy Worden, DOH, 717-787-1783
SOURCE Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources