USA – Mystery 2021 Pennsylvania Pool E. coli and C. difficile Outbreak Finally Explained – 15 Sickened

Food Poison Journal

On June 7, 2021, the Pennsylvania Department of Health (PADOH) received multiple complaints of gastrointestinal illness from patrons of a community swimming pool. Two patrons reported positive Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC) and Clostridioides difficile from stool specimens. PADOH issued pool closure orders and initiated an outbreak response to identify a source and prevent additional illnesses.

Confirmed cases were defined as isolation of E. coli O157:H7 or detection of Shiga toxin or Shiga toxin genes from stool specimens of persons who visited the pool during May 31–June 7, 2021. Probable cases were defined as three or more loose stools in 24 hours with nausea, vomiting, fever, or cramps in persons who visited the pool during the same time frame. C. difficile results were deemed incidental upon consultation with experts (LC McDonald, MD, CDC, personal communication, June 2021) and were not included in the case definition.

Fifteen cases (nine confirmed, six probable) in persons aged 4–14 years were identified; 10 patients were male. All persons reported swimming at the pool on May 31, 2021, the seasonal opening date, and had no other common exposures. The total number of pool visitors on this date is unknown. Symptom onsets occurred during June 2–June 4, 2021. Thirteen patients sought medical evaluation, and six were hospitalized. Four received antibiotics for C. difficile. None developed hemolytic uremic syndrome.

Early findings suggested an unusual association between exposure to a chlorinated swimming pool and infections caused by two pathogens susceptible to chlorine. Pool inspection revealed an automatic chlorinator malfunction. Record-keeping was inconsistent with local requirements, and the few available records demonstrated at least one instance of no detectable chlorine. The pool reopened following chlorinator repair, after which no additional cases were identified.

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