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Big Island outbreak has health officials investigating stool samples

Updated: July 11, 2019 06:21 PM

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS took a look inside the testing process as public health officials race to find the source of an illness outbreak connected to Lake Minnetonka.

So far, more than 100 people have been sickened after spending time near Big Island on the lake during the Fourth of July weekend.

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Medical experts are working to narrow down the possible causes of the illnesses.

Researchers inside a lab at the Minnesota Department of Health in St. Paul are using a bio safety cabinet to protect themselves as they test stool samples. In an hour's time, they can see if they have a virus, bacteria or parasite.

"We look at the time period of when people were exposed, when they became sick, kind of seeing what kind of pathogens we might test for," said Trisha Robinson, supervisor of the Waterborne Diseases Unit at the Department of Health.

As of Thursday, the department said it's tested one kit so far, but there were no positive pathogens. Still, there are more stool sample kits to be tested from people who were at Big Island over the holiday weekend and are now experiencing vomiting and diarrhea.

"But there are risks," Robinson said, and urged people to not go swimming if they're sick.

RELATED: Hennepin County officials: Nearly 120 reports of illness related to Big Island investigation

"If someone is sick, it doesn't seem logical that they would want to go swimming, but people do, and we know that they do ... If you're sick with something, it'll wash off into the water and make a whole lot of people sick," Robinson said.

What's more, Robinson said swimmers should not put water in their mouths and spit it out, but should shower both before and after swimming. And, be extra careful. Robinson said you shouldn't let even a drop of lake water splash into your drink.

"Ultimately, sometimes, we don't find out what caused an outbreak," Robinson said. "It doesn't mean that people did not get sick."

For now, the mystery continues.

For people who are wondering if they can go boating on Lake Minnetonka, this weekend, and not catch the illness, the Health Department said Thursday to avoid overly crowded areas, but at this time, it doesn't believe there's an ongoing or increased risk of illness associated with Lake Minnetonka.

In a statement it said in part, "We do not have evidence that recent exposures in this area have led to any new illnesses." 

However, the City of Excelsior has closed its nearby beaches.

The Health Department says people should follow safe swimming practices to preventing water illnesses.

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Brandi Powell

Copyright 2019 - KSTP-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

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