updated 8/18/2004 6:34:10 AM ET 2004-08-18T10:34:10

A mysterious illness on Lake Erie’s South Bass Island has sickened dozens of tourists and residents, baffling health officials who are searching for a connection.

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In the past two weeks, the Ottawa County Health Department has documented 78 cases and is investigating more than 90 other claims, said Director Nancy Osborn.

“We’re still looking for the link,” Osborn said.

The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency has ordered a winery and a bar to stop using their septic systems after finding wells at the sites tested positive for E. coli, said spokeswoman Dina Pierce.

She cautioned there is no known connection between the illnesses and the businesses, and added some people who became sick did not visit either business.

'Don't know what they have here'
EPA workers plan to take more well samples Wednesday at the two businesses, which are near each other.

Those who have become sick say they’ve suffered from nausea, chills, fever, abdominal cramps and vomiting. The symptoms have generally lasted about 24 hours.

Tracy Bennett, 42, said she and her sister spent a day at the island three weeks ago. “We both got very sick, like clockwork after two days,” Bennett said. “We were sick for two days.”

The wave of illnesses comes at the height of tourist season on the island, which sits just a few miles offshore and is about halfway between Toledo and Cleveland.

Put-in-Bay, a summer getaway known for its bed and breakfast inns, wineries, beaches and bars, draws about 15,000 people by boat on the weekends.

Mayor Mack McCann said inspections of the village’s water and sewer systems have found no problems.

McCann, who owns several businesses on the island, said the illness has not hurt tourism.

“The health department has not said don’t come here because they don’t know what they have here,” McCann said.

The county health department hopes to know more by the end of the week when it expects to receive results of tests from the Ohio Department of Health, Osborn said.

The department is testing samples from those who have been stricken.

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