- The Washington Times - Monday, August 14, 2006

Maryland health officials have banned swimming at Sandy Point State Park in Annapolis because of an outbreak of a bacteria that could cause skin infections or stomach illnesses.

There have been no reported cases of illnesses caused by the bacteria, known as Enterococcus, officials said.

Nonetheless, health officials warned that anyone who has swum recently at the park should monitor their open cuts and stomach health.

“Overall, [Chesapeake Bay] water has had lower bacterial levels than in past years,” said Richard A. Eskin, director of technical and regulatory services for the Maryland Department of the Environment. “This is a localized problem.”

This is the second time this season that health officials have banned swimming at Sandy Point because of high levels of the Enterococcus bacteria, which is found in the fecal matter of warm-blooded animals.

A similar ban was enforced late last month; the current ban went into effect Sunday.

“The high readings have been intermittent. The repeat occurrence allows for more information for us to work with,” Mr. Eskin said.

The state Department of the Environment is working with the Anne Arundel County Health Department and the state Department of Natural Resources to find the source of the bacteria.

Officials will be conducting surveys along Sandy Point’s shoreline in search of broken pipes, failed septic systems or high numbers of warm-blooded animals.

They will collect water samples, which will be sent to Salisbury University’s laboratory for DNA testing to determine the source of the bacteria.

The bacteria can infect open wounds and cause gastrointestinal illnesses marked by diarrhea, nausea and vomiting.

Swimming will be reinstated at Sandy Point when there are two consecutive “good days” of test data, said Kerry Topovski, director of Anne Arundel County’s Division of Environmental Health.

The park remains open, but no one is allowed in the water, park officials said.

“We still warn people before they come in and pay,” said Laurie Witcher, Sandy Point’s development manager. “There are some people who turn around, which is sad.”

Until bacterial readings return to normal, the state departments of the Environment and Health will provide information for people to make decisions about swimming.

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