An investigation by the Tennessee Department of Health has found E. coli bacteria was the cause of sickness that affected at least 550 people at a Gatlinburg area zipline attraction.
Nearly 550 people have reported illness after visiting the CLIMB Works Zip Line Canopy Tour in Gatlinburg.
Is the illness contagious, easily spread?
East Tennessee Region Health Department Assistant Director Gail Harmon said well water samples are en route to Nashville for advanced tests because initial tests showed E. coli bacteria and total coliforms were present in CLIMB Works' water.
Advanced tests will show whether the strain of E. coli in the water is contagious.
Certain strains of E. coli that cause gastrointestinal problems can be spread from person to person, according to the Mayo Clinic, especially when affected children and adults don't wash their hands properly.
The Tennessee Department of Health used CLIMB Works online sales records to email 2,901 surveys asking patrons of the business if they became ill after visiting the attraction.
Nearly 808 people have responded to the survey, 548 of whom reported illness.
Online reviews of the business indicate many ill patrons booked and visited CLIMB Works in groups, so, the number of sick people may be much greater than that.
Harmon said of the 548 people who reported illness, 505 said they were traveling as part of a group that ranged from two to 30 people.
Number too low?
"But that doesn't mean they were all ill," she said. "We will never have an accurate number of people."
The Health Department said respondents are located in multiple states and visited CLIMB Works between mid-June and early July.
The Health Department is awaiting test results of the facility's well water, which Harmon said the department believes may be the culprit.
CLIMB Works took 'appropriate steps'
"CLIMB Works Zipline Canopy Tour has fully cooperated with public health officials and has taken appropriate steps to remediate immediate health concerns," the Health Department said.
Those steps include using bottled water and adding more filtration to their water wells, Harmon said. The facility also closed its doors Sunday, July 8 to sanitize everything.
"The facility was closed temporarily but has resumed routine operation with ongoing consultation from local public health authorities," according to the Health Department.
The Health Dept. recommended anyone who became sick after visiting zipline attraction visit their Primary Care Manager and consider having a stool test performed.