updated 8/24/2004 12:18:06 PM ET 2004-08-24T16:18:06

The wide scope of an outbreak that sickened hundreds of travelers to a Lake Erie resort island will make it difficult to find a source for the illness, infectious disease experts said.

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Some say they suffered nausea and diarrhea after traveling to South Bass Island in recent weeks, while some say they fell ill in early June.

Others never set foot on the quaint tourist getaway, only stopping nearby.

“It’s not like you have 600 people who went to the same wedding, and they all had the coleslaw,” said Brian Harrington, a professor of public health at the Medical College of Ohio.

The number of gastrointestinal illnesses rose again on Monday, with 750 people now saying they fell ill after visiting the island and the surrounding area. The island is about halfway between Toledo and Cleveland.

The total includes tourists from Ontario, Canada, and 11 states as far away as California and Texas, according to the Ohio Department of Health.

A handful of people have tested positive for two kinds of bacterial infections, campylobacter and salmonella, and one kind of viral infection, norovirus.

David Taylor, an infection control practitioner at Ohio State University Medical Center, said it was unusual that all three infections would come from the same outbreak.

Nothing ruled out
All three organisms could have been spread by drinking water, restaurant workers or someone who didn’t wash their hands after using a restroom. Nothing has been ruled out.

It’s possible that the problem may go away before investigators can pinpoint the source, Taylor said.

“Sometimes we never do find a source for it,” he said. “The fact that it’s a resort where people come and go makes it more difficult.”

All the cases may not be linked to South Bass Island, Harrington said.

“They may be coincidental,” he said. “It’s possible some of those people picked up something else, somewhere else. People tend to eat out more, eat more casually in the summer. It’s picnic season and tourist season.”

Most people said they became sick within two or three days of visiting the summer getaway island where the main town, Put-In-Bay, draws about 15,000 people by boat on weekends to its inns, wineries, beaches and bars.

Visitors’ symptoms included nausea, chills, fever, abdominal cramps, diarrhea and vomiting, and generally lasted about 24 hours.

The state Health Department doesn’t have many tests pending because most people have since recovered, said agency spokesman Kristopher Weiss.

Investigators were looking for common links besides the illness and travel to the island, he said.

“It’s very difficult to say where this could go,” Weiss said.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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