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Published: Tuesday, 8/17/2004

More than 170 report illness after visiting Put-in-Bay area

BY KIM BATES
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The department received 94 calls with reports of new illnesses on top of the 78 previous cases health officials have documented in recent weeks.

We re still processing people, we haven t interviewed them all. We re getting numbers and we re calling them back, Health Commissioner Nancy Osborn said. We re working extra hours.

She said the new calls are in response to reports of an outbreak of gastrointestinal illness that largely appears to be striking residents and visitors to Put-in-Bay on South Bass Island in Lake Erie.

The health department began receiving reports early last month of people suffering from 24-hour bouts of nausea, chills, fever, abdominal cramps, and vomiting, accompanied in some cases by diarrhea.

Health officials have not been able to determine what the illness is or what s causing it, but the bulk of the callers continue to report being at South Bass Island during or before the onset of symptoms. A few have reportedly become ill after visiting the area, but not being on the island.

Bobbi Cousino, 26, of Toledo, said yesterday she would be reporting to the health department that she and two co-workers became sick after visiting the island Aug. 9.

Ms. Cousino attributed their illnesses to eating grilled chicken at a downtown restaurant in Put-in-Bay, and said she became ill within an hour of consuming a large meal at the restaurant.

Ms. Cousino said she had to stop her car multiple times after becoming ill on the way back to Toledo that night.

One second you re kind of hot, then you get cold. It s a weird sick: You re OK for a while. It s a feeling I ve never had, she said. It wasn t a fun experience.

Ms. Cousino and her co-workers from the Upper Deck Bar & Grill, on West Laskey Rd. in West Toledo, visited Put-in-Bay for a work party.

Three members in their group of eight later experienced the same symptoms, all after eating chicken, she said.

Other island visitors, though, seemed more focused on water as the potential cause of their illness.

Tracy Bennett, 42, said she and her sister spent a day at the island three weeks ago and noticed a handmade sign in one bathroom that said: Do not drink this water. It will make you sick.

The Point Place woman said they went elsewhere on the island and requested to have their bottles filled with water there.

We both got very sick, like clockwork after two days. We were sick for two days, Ms. Bennett said. In my heart and soul, I know it was the water.

She added that their children did not drink the water and did not get sick.

Put-in-Bay Mayor Mack McCann said again yesterday that inspections of the town s water and sewer systems have found no problems.

He also said he believes the village has one of the finest water plants in Ohio.

Mr. McCann, who owns several businesses on the island, said news of the illness has not adversely affected tourism on the popular Lake Erie destination, which is known for its historic sites as well as its many bars and restaurants.

The health department has not said don t come here because they don t know what they have here, Mr. McCann said.

It s unfortunate they ve labeled something they don t know, he said.

Ms. Osborn said health officials have not pointed fingers at a cause for the illnesses. She said four disease specialists were on hand to take calls yesterday.

We re looking at everything, she said. We cannot say our primary or preliminary thoughts are with one specific thing.

She said her office has sent samples from some of the stricken people to the Ohio Department of Health, which will analyze them and report results at the end of the week.

Until then, Ms. Osborn said, she s urging anyone with symptoms to contact her office at 419-734-6800 to aid in the department s investigation.

Contact Kim Bates at:kimbates@theblade.comor 419-337-7780.


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