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Residents at Beach should boil their water

Residents of Colonial Beach were urged Tuesday to boil their water before consumption after the town was notified of an E. coli contamination in the water system.

The contamination, which was found in a July 8 sample from one specific town residence as part of routine testing, could affect up to 2,500 residences in Colonial Beach.

The town is flushing pipes and increasing chlorination before collecting additional samples to be tested by the Virginia Department of Health (VDH). Results of the tests will not reach the town until Thursday or Friday, said Bennett Ragnauth, engineering field director at the Health Department’s Office of Drinking Water.

The problem began on July 8, when a water sample taken from a residence on Mimosa Avenue in Colonial Beach tested positive for E. coli.

The town, which gets its water from a series of wells, followed normal procedures after being advised by VDH to collect six repeat samples from the water system on July 15.

On Tuesday the town learned that of the six repeat samples, all tested negative for E. coli, but two samples tested positive for coliform bacteria, which means there could be a risk to drinking the water.

The one positive E. coli sample and two positive coliform samples led to the town’s advisory issued Tuesday under VDH protocol.

E. coli is a fecal indicator, or a microbe that indicates that the water may be contaminated with human or animal wastes.

The microbes can cause short-term health problems, such as diarrhea, cramps, nausea and headaches. They may pose a special health risk for infants, young children, elderly and people with severely compromised immune systems.

For more information, residents can contact Robert Murphy, Colonial Beach Public Works Department director, or Jill Tighe, Wastewater Treatment Plant supervisor at 804/224-7260.

Residents should call the EPA Safe Drinking Water Hotline at 800/426-4791 for general guidelines on ways to lessen the risk of infection by E. coli microbes.

Regina Weiss 540/374-5444



What is E. coli?

E. coli, or Escherichia coli, is a bacteria that normally lives in the intestines of people and animals. Most E. coli forms are harmless and are an important part of a healthy human intestinal tract; however, some cause illness.

The types of E. coli that cause illness are transmitted through contaminated water or food or through contact with animals or persons.

What happens if you drink contaminated water?

Some kinds of E. coli can cause diarrhea, while others can cause urinary tract infections, respiratory illness and pneumonia and other illnesses.

Some kinds of E. coli cause disease by making a toxin called Shiga toxin. The bacteria that make the toxins are called “Shiga toxin-producing” E. coli, or “STEC” for short.

The most commonly identified STEC in North America is E. coli O157.

Symptoms of infections from STEC can vary, but often include severe stomach cramps, diarrhea (often bloody) and vomiting. If there is fever, it usually is not very high (less than 101 degrees). Most people get better within 5 to 7 days, but some infections can be severe or even life-threatening.

The incubation period, the time between ingestion of bacteria and feeling sick, is usually 3 to 4 days after exposure. Symptoms often begin slowly with mild stomach pain and diarrhea that worsens over several days.

—Centers for Disease Control and Prevention