Snohomish Health District rules out drinking water as source of disease in illness investigation

SNOHOMISH COUNTY — The Snohomish Health District is continuing its investigation of an illness that struck participants in a statewide cheerleading competition on Feb. 4 at Comcast Arena in Everett. Several Snohomish County schools participated. So far, 46 Snohomish County residents reported they were ill in connection with the event. Nearly 200 have reported illness statewide.

Jodi Runyon of the Marysville School District confirmed that five students on the 15-member Marysville-Pilchuck High School cheerleading team were among the 19 cheer squads, out of the 45 squads in the competition, whose onset of symptoms reportedly began on Feb. 5 and 6.

Arlington Cheer Advisor Brooke Dalgaard reported that none of her cheerleaders have experienced the flu-like symptoms exhibited by the Marysville cheerleaders, while Lakewood High School Principal Dale Leach is not aware of any Lakewood cheerleaders either attending the event or suffering any symptoms.

According to Snohomish Health District officials, it appears that some athletes arrived to the event already ill. Janitorial crews were called to clean up vomit from the floors of a restroom and the adjacent concourse walkway prior to the event awards ceremony that night. Those sites are considered likely exposure sites for the cheer and dance teams.

Health District officials reported that Comcast Arena is being cleaned for public use and entertainment under direction from Comcast management, and that management is cooperating fully with the illness investigation. On Health District recommendations, arena staff began cleaning and sanitizing the building and food preparation areas on Feb. 6. The city of Everett also tested the drinking water supply to the arena. It proved to be safe, ruling out the public drinking water supply as a source of the causative disease organism.

Epidemiologists believe the illness was caused by a Norwalk-like virus because so many patients experienced severe vomiting and diarrhea in a short span of time, and because of the 24- to 48-hour duration of the illness. To reduce the spread of the illness, they advise close attention to thorough hand washing with hot water and soap, and immediate sanitizing of contaminated surfaces and clothing with bleach solution. People whose symptoms extend beyond 48 hours should beware of dehydration and should seek the care of a medical provider.

In addition to interviewing patients for symptoms and onset date, inspecting the facility and testing the drinking water supply, public health officials are seeking to identify the illness' origin through laboratory testing for disease organisms.

The state Department of Health is conducting an online survey of 2,000 event participants and their families. State epidemiologists hope that information gathered in the survey and follow-up lab tests will lead to a common source of illness. The deadline for submitting survey information is Feb. 13.

For updates about issues affecting the health of the community, check the Snohomish Health District website at Call 425-339-5278 with questions about communicable diseases.

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