The Department of Health in Tennessee is investigating an outbreak of a gastrointestinal illness after more than 500 people became sick following a visit to a zip line attraction.
Multiple people who visited the zip line since June 15 have tested positive for norovirus, commonly known as stomach flu. One patient was tested positive for both norovirus and an E. coli infection.
The virus causes symptoms of nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, which usually last one or two days. E. coli infection can cause watery diarrhea lasting several days.
The department said in a statement on July 12 that testing was underway to identify the cause of the illnesses.
“At this time we cannot point to one simple cause of this outbreak,” said TDH Deputy State Epidemiologist John Dunn.
“Preliminary testing and environmental health assessments indicate the water system at the zipline facility may have contributed to the outbreak. However, there are likely other sources involved in the spread of the illnesses, including contaminated surfaces and person-to-person transmission.”
Dunn said water testing has indicated that the attraction’s water system has been contaminated by fecal matter.
“Additional preliminary testing has identified enteropathogenic E. coli,” he added.
“Testing of clinical and environmental samples is still underway to look for bacterial, viral and parasitic organisms.”
The zip line company, Climb Works, is cooperating fully with the public health investigation.
“We have implemented every recommendation from the Health Department and are currently only using complimentary bottled water for our drinking water and added an additional chlorination system for our non-potable water,” owner Nick Thompson told CNN.
“We feel awful for anyone that got sick and are asking anyone affected to contact us directly so we can help make the situation right for our guests.”
Several visitors have left reviews on Climb Works’s Facebook page to warn against drinking water from the attraction.
“Caution don’t drink the water. My boys liked it until 12 hours later they became violently ill. Made for a horrible trip home, everyone holding puke bags and experiencing extreme nausea,” one visitor said.
“Ziplines and staff were great. Both my husband and I got sick afterward. He is still having stomach issues and we were there the end of May,” another visitor wrote.
In response, the company said that they were aware of the reports and have switched over to bottled water while a treatment system is installed.