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Illness not tied into Woodward Reservoir

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POSTED June 19, 2014 12:50 a.m.

OAKDALE – Several people that swam in Woodward Reservoir claim that the water made them sick. 

The only problem is that in one case – in which a man was hospitalized and reportedly lost more than 20 pounds in a week with a stomach illness – the bacteria that his family said he contracted from the water was not the same type of bacteria that the Stanislaus County Department of Public Health detected when they performed a test on the water before the Memorial Day holiday.  

According to Jami Aggers, Stanislaus County’s environmental resources director, Campylobacter – the bacteria that Stockton man Luis Lopez’ family believes he contracted after swimming in the reservoir two weeks ago and led to his hospitalization – is not a Coliform bacteria, which is what was measured at an elevated level when the county performed the water test back in May. 

Signs were posted on May 23 when results of that water test came back and have remained up since. The tests, which are normally conducted by the South San Joaquin Irrigation District – which owns the reservoir – before the three major summer holidays were picked up by Stanislaus County this year in an agreement between the two agencies. 

Aggers said that the reservoir will remain open and advisements about the elevated levels of bacteria will remain in place. The signs, which were posted all over the park, advise the public to swim at its own risk but depict a swimmer with a red circle and a line through it. Whether those signs were prevalent in the area where Lopez spent the weekend with his family was not known. 

In a press release issued by Stanislaus County Wednesday, the agency claims that the lab testing that Lopez had done does not reveal the source of his illness – which is most commonly contracted through consuming undercooked poultry. Just this week Britain’s Food Standards Agency issued a warning to residents not to wash chicken before cooking it because doing so could unknowingly splash the bacteria all over the kitchen and lead to sickness. 

An investigation is being conducted by the San Joaquin County Public Health Agency into his illness. 

Several people reported to the Modesto Bee that they suffered from intestinal illness after spending time in the water over the last two weeks. Social media accounts have given the stories traction and is helping it spread not just among friends but throughout the region.

The release also targeted another claim, this one by a man on social media that said he developed a full-body rash after swimming in the reservoir, by saying that it’s not uncommon for people with skin sensitivities to develop a skin reaction after spending any amount of time in untreated water.  

Additional water testing is being conducted. Testing specifically for Campylobacter, which can be introduced into streams and rivers by animals and is commonly found in water sources near grazing areas, was not initially tested for – only total Coliform bacteria and the presence of E.Coli bacteria were included. The results of the San Joaquin County investigation may yield the need for additional testing. 

Originally Woodward Reservoir was going to be closed for the summer because of water evaporation and seepage concerns spurred by California’s severe drought, but Stanislaus County – which feared that cutting access to the popular recreation area would lose them millions of dollars – worked out a deal to keep the reservoir open at least through July 8. 

Aggers said that date has been extended although the date in which the lowering of the water level – once it falls below a certain level the concentration of bacteria in the water rises to an unhealthy level and human contact is no longer allowed – is not yet known. 

The release repeated that like any untreated source, the water from Woodward Reservoir should not be directly consumed and people should take care if they make the decision to swim. Lake water, it said, is not the same as chlorinated pool water and needs to be approached as such. 

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