At least 14 ill after drinking water at Cape Girardeau Co. sports complex

By Heartland News

CAPE GIRARDEAU, MO (KFVS) - Since April 28, at least 14 people have reported getting sick after drinking water at a Cape Girardeau County sports complex, according to Kit Wagar, public information officer with the Missouri Dept. of Health and Senior Services.

All have been linked to E. coli in the water at the Class Act Sports Complex, which is located at 2336 County Road 301 just outside the city of Jackson.  Officials with the Cape Girardeau County Public Health Center tested water from a drinking fountain and a faucet within the facility and confirmed the presence of E. coli in both samples.

The sports complex is served by a private well.  Owner Shawn McNally says he shut it off last Wednesday when he found out about the problem.

"I was worried about all the kids," McNally said.

McNally tells Heartland News his customers are his first priority.  So when the Health Center told him his business was the source of the problem, he says he got to work.

"We immediately started contacting all our parents to let them know there was a problem with our water," said McNally.

The business owner says in his nearly 17 years of operating the complex, he's never had a problem like this.  However, Amy Morris, Environmental Public Health Specialist at the Cape Girardeau County Public Health Center says it can happen to anyone.

"The easiest way to spread E. coli is through ingestion," said Morris. "You either eat it or drink it."

Morris says McNally is being proactive to get the issue fixed.

"(McNally) is being very cooperative and correction measures have been put into place so this can be stopped," Morris said.

McNally says he's sorry for any customer who got sick from this contamination.  He says he understands, not only as the owner of the business, but also as a parent who uses this water.

"My wife, my four daughters and myself all drink the water everyday," McNally said. "It's extremely important. The health and safety of the children means more than anything."

Wagar said testing confirmed five of the 14 people who became ill were suffering from exposure to E. coli, and nine others are considered probable.  Four people have been hospitalized.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, E. coli is a strain of the bacteria that is estimated to cause infections in 70,000 people in the U.S. each year.

Anyone with questions about the outbreak should call the Cape Girardeau County Public Health Center at (573) 335-7846.  People who have become ill after drinking water at Class Act Sports Complex are asked to contact health officials at the same number, Wagar said.

McNally says a chlorination machine is being installed to fix the problem. Everything should be back to normal in about a week.

Copyright 2010 KFVS. All rights reserved.