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N Engl J Med. 1994 Sep 1;331(9):579-84.

A swimming-associated outbreak of hemorrhagic colitis caused by Escherichia coli O157:H7 and Shigella sonnei.

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Center for Disease Prevention and Epidemiology, Oregon Health Division, Portland 97232.



In the summer of 1991, simultaneous outbreaks of bloody diarrhea and hemolytic-uremic syndrome caused by Escherichia coli O157:H7 and of bloody diarrhea caused by Shigella sonnei were traced to a lakeside park near Portland, Oregon.


We identified cases primarily from routine surveillance reports. In case-control studies, the activities of persons with park-associated E. coli O157:H7 or S. sonnei infections were compared independently with those of three sets of controls. We also evaluated environmental conditions at the park and subtyped the bacterial isolates.


We identified 21 persons with park-associated E. coli O157:H7 infections (all of them children; median age, six years) and 38 persons with S. sonnei infections (most of them children). These 59 people had visited the park over a 24-day period. Their illnesses were not associated with food or beverage consumption. All the case patients reported swimming, however, and in case-control studies swimming was strongly associated with both types of infection (P = 0.015 or less). The case patients were more likely than the controls to report having swallowed lake water, and they had spent more time in the lake. Numbers of enterococci indicative of substantial fecal contamination (geometric mean, > 50 per deciliter) were detected in the swimming area during some but not all of the outbreak period. Park-associated E. coli O157:H7 isolates were identical by pulsed-field gel electrophoresis and were distinguishable from other isolates in the Portland area.


Lake water that was fecally contaminated by bathers was the most likely vehicle for the transmission of both the E. coli O157:H7 and the S. sonnei infections. The unusually prolonged outbreak suggests both the survival of these enteric organisms in lake water and a low infectious dose.

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