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Chambersburg mom speaks about son's E. coli-related health issues

August 11, 2011|By JENNIFER FITCH | waynesboro@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. — In the weeks since her son contracted E. coli O157, Melanie Royer has been a mother on a mission to encourage illness reporting and the closure of the lake at Cowans Gap State Park.

The Fulton County, Pa., lake was closed at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday as state officials search for E. coli bacteria.

E. coli O157 has sickened at least 11 people in the region. The Pennsylvania Department of Health reports all those people swam in the Cowans Gap State Park lake in mid- to late-July, but they have not determined whether the lake is contaminated.

Royer is thankful the lake was closed as a precaution because she watched the bacteria ravage her 12-year-old son's body.

"This whole thing is so scary because you're helpless as a parent," she said.

The identified strain of the bacteria, E. coli O157, typically causes bloody diarrhea and cramping or pain, Dr. Andre Weltman, a public health physician for the health department said in an interview Tuesday.

A related, possibly fatal condition, Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome, can affect the blood and kidneys, he said.

The Chambersburg, Pa., woman said her son did not present symptoms for four to five days after swimming in the lake July 12.

Doctors admitted Colby Royer first to Chambersburg Hospital and later to Hershey (Pa.) Medical Center, where his kidneys and blood systems were monitored. The boy underwent two blood transfusions after being diagnosed with Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome.

Soon, Royer said she was hearing of similar cases of the syndrome in children who swam at Cowans Gap State Park.

Royer said she's been talking to two families with hospitalized young children, one of whom was in serious condition with seizures. In each case, the child had visited Cowans Gap before becoming ill.

She encourages people with suspected E. coli cases to not only seek medical attention, but also ensure their cases are being reported to the state health department.

Royer criticized the delay between when children were being diagnosed and when the lake closed.

"It's been so aggravating for me," Royer said.

"We acted as soon as we were contacted by (the state health department) that these instances were going up," said Terry Brady, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, which oversees the state park system.

Today, Colby is anemic and suffering some after effects of kidney damage, but he's returned to daily activities. His mother said she's been told doctors will monitor him for years.

In news releases, the Pennsylvania Department of Health has urged anyone who has visited the park and experienced diarrhea symptoms to contact a doctor, their county health department or the state health department at 1-877-PA-HEALTH.

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