Beaches closed after 29 swimmers sickened with Norovirus, at Pennsylvania park

State officials have closed the beaches at a central Pennsylvania state park after at least 29 swimmers were sickened with Norovirus, and possibly E. coli bacteria in the water.

Cowans Gap State ParkThe lake and beach at Cowans Gap State Park have been closed to swimmers, though fishing and boating are still permitted. The park straddles the border of Franklin and Fulton counties and is located about 60 miles west of Harrisburg.

Pennsylvania lake E. coli O157 toll climbs to 13, 8 HUS

The Pennsylvania Department of Health is now aware of at least 13 people infected with E. coli O157:H7 who swam in the lake at Cowans Gap State Park.

In a brief e-mail statement this afternoon, press aide Thomas Hostetter said the current numbers include six people from Franklin County, four from Lancaster County, and one from Huntingdon County. There are also two Maryland residents who got sick after visiting the park.

Hostetter said the E. coli outbreak at Cowans Gap remains under investigation, and that more updates will be released as they become available.

E. coli O157 toll up to 11 at Pennsylvania park lake

There are now 11 confirmed and two probable E. coli infections linked to the outbreak at Cowans Gap State Park, and most of the afflicted were in the lake on the same weekend.

Pennsylvania Department of Health spokesperson Christine Cronkright released the updated numbers Thursday. Nine of the confirmed E. coli O157:H7 cases involved people from Pennsylvania, and two are from Maryland. All but one of the sick people are children.

In the weeks since her son contracted E. coli O157, Melanie Royer has been a mother on a mission to encourage illness reporting and the closure of the lake at Cowans Gap State Park.

Royer is thankful the lake was closed as a precaution because she watched the bacteria ravage her 12-year-old son’s body.

"This whole thing is so scary because you’re helpless as a parent," she said.

She encourages people with suspected E. coli cases to not only seek medical attention, but also ensure their cases are being reported to the state health department.

Royer criticized the delay between when children were being diagnosed and when the lake closed.

9 sick including 3 HUS from E. coli O157; is Pennsylvania lake the source?

From the I-wish-I-hadn’t-said-that files, Terry Brady, a spokesperson with Pennsylvania’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources said Monday that the lake at Cowans Gap State Park remained open, despite links to three cases of E. coli O157. “The beaches are open and actually there was a good turnout today. A link to the park has not been established."

The lake was closed Tuesday afternoon, as the number of people, primarily children, confirmed to have contracted E. coli O157:H7 rose to six, with an additional three suspect cases.

At least three of the infected have developed hemolytic uremic syndrome, including a 3-year-old Mercersburg girl who has been hospitalized since Wednesday, and a 12-year-old Chambersburg boy, who is now recovering after spending his birthday in the hospital.

Spokesman Brady said in an email Tuesday night that the closing of the lake at Cowans Gap is a precautionary measure "to protect the public’s health and safety until the investigation can be completed."

He said the decision was made after interviews showed that swimming in the lake before becoming ill was a common factor between all individuals.

Over the weekend, Nikki Gordon, a friend of the three-year-old’s family and another family friend, Amanda Stauffer, came up with the idea for a Facebook group to raise support. As of Friday evening, the group had 955 members, featuring hundreds of well wishes and regular updates on the girl’s condition.

Through her Facebook group, Stauffer has heard from several other people who say their children got sick after swimming in the lake at Cowans Gap, she said. They include a 6-year-old girl, a 15-month-old boy and several children who apparently suffered "mild symptoms" but did not require hospitalization.

"All of these kids have one thing in common, and it’s Cowans Gap. The only thing we do know is that they were all there," Stauffer said.