Contaminated water sickens Scouts at Broad Creek


A contaminated well at Broad Creek Memorial Scout Reservation in Harford County sickened as many as 200 campers last week, according to county health officials, who said they were concerned that the camp did not report the outbreak.

"We found a fair number of children were ill and acted immediately to prevent the spread of disease," said Dr. Andrew Bernstein, Harford's health officer.

Results of samples from the well tested positive yesterday for fecal coliform bacteria. The camp, which closes for the season today, has brought in bottled water and cannot use water from the well for drinking or food handling.

The campers, all part of the International Jamboree for Boy Scouts of Polish descent, were infected with Norovirus, a highly contagious gastroenteritis, seen commonly on cruise ships, Bernstein said.

"It is spread easily between people and lasts one to two days," he said. "Most recover with no subsequent problems."

Reports of illness early last week at the 1,700-acre wooded camp near Whiteford prompted an investigation by the Health Department. For the past two weeks, the camp has played host to about 1,200 children of Polish descent, who ranged in age from 5 to 18. The Scouts had come from across the United States and around the world.

Extreme heat affected nearly 50 northern European Scouts when they first arrived, with nine taken to area hospitals and 40 treated at the camp.

Then the intestinal problems set in, but camp leaders failed to notify the Health Department.

"The camp could have and should have notified us of an illness incidence so out of proportion," Bernstein said. "We would have been there a lot sooner."

Gabriella Backiel, camp director, told a reporter for The Sun on Tuesday that there was no widespread illness among the campers.

"All problems were resolved and camp programs were running normally," she said.

Nurses, epidemiologists and sanitarians from the Health Department "took a fine-tooth comb to the kitchen and water sources" at the camp Wednesday, Bernstein said. Tests completed yesterday showed the well was the source of the contamination, he said.

Although camp leaders were chastised, they have been cooperative and there will be no recriminations, Bernstein said. Broad Creek draws about 4,500 Scouts each week during the summer.

"We will be working with them in the off-season to determine how to fix the well," Bernstein said. "We have also asked for additional hand-washing stations and a better distribution of children to avoid crowding."

The campers will go home today with information packets on Norovirus written in English and Polish, Bernstein said.

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