Massachusetts health officials have closed Shannon Beach and its playground for the season after a group of people contracted a bacterial infection called Shigellosis. The bacteria blamed for the sickness has been tracked to the public bathrooms at the beach.
Massachusetts health officials have closed Shannon Beach and its playground for the season after a group of people contracted a bacterial infection called Shigellosis.
“In the interest of public health and safety, we closed the Shannon Beach facility immediately upon learning of the apparent bacterial contamination,” said Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation Commissioner Richard K. Sullivan Jr. “We thank DPH [Department of Public Health] for informing us of this outbreak, and we appreciate the public’s understanding.”
A DCR spokeswoman said 16 people contracted the infection after visiting the Winchester beach. According to the Centers for Disease and Control, Shigellosis is an infectious disease caused by a group of bacteria called shigella.
“Most who are infected with shigella develop diarrhea, fever, and stomach cramps starting a day or two after they are exposed to the bacteria,” the CDC warns.
Many of those affected have been reported to be children from several different communities in the area who all said they visited Shannon Beach within the last few weeks.
According to Winchester Health Director Jennifer Murphy, only one Winchester resident thus far has been diagnosed with shigellosis.
“It doesn’t take a lot of the bacteria to cause the infection, and it’s easily transmissible,” said Murphy.
Murphy said the bacteria is usually transferred person to person through close contact, or through contact with contaminated feces.
According to Suzanne Condon, director of the DPH Bureau of Environmental Health, although initial media reports indicated the infection had been spread through the water, the infection actually most likely originated in the bathroom.
“We closed the area … because we believe the source is most likely in the bathroom facilities,” she said, adding that test results from the men’s and women’s bathrooms and nearby portable toilets should be available by the end of the week.
According to Condon, although test results taken from the water did not indicate the presence of shigella, the entire beach was closed because of the possibility that the bacteria may have spread from the bathroom to other areas of the facility such as the picnic tables or playground.
She said residents from more than 10 communities, including Boston and Chelsea, had reported coming down with the infection after visiting the beach.
According to Murphy, symptoms of the infection are reminiscent of dysentery, and those who believe they may have contracted it should contact their doctors for confirmation.
The CDC Web site says Shigellosis “usually resolves in five to seven days,” and that those inflicted with it “rarely require hospitalization.
“A severe infection with high fever may be associated with seizures in children less than two years old. Some persons who are infected may have no symptoms at all, but may still pass the shigella bacteria to others.”
The agency lists swimming as one of the many ways people can contract the infection.
“Water may become contaminated with shigella bacteria if sewage runs into it, or if someone with shigellosis swims in or plays with it (especially in splash tables, untreated wading pools, or shallow play fountains used by daycare centers),” according to the CDC. “Shigella infections can ... be acquired by drinking, swimming in, or playing with ... contaminated water.”
Last year, the beach formerly known as “Sandy Beach” was renamed in honor of the late Sen. Charles E. Shannon Jr.
Shannon represented the second Middlesex District of Winchester, Woburn, Somerville and Medford in the state legislature for about 15 years, from 1990 to 2005. He died at the age of 61 in April 2005 and was succeeded by Sen. Pat Jehlen, D-Middlesex.
After his death, the Winchester Board of Selectmen approached local legislators including Jehlen, Rep. Paul Casey, D-Winchester and Rep. Paul Donato, D-Medford, with the idea of renaming Sandy Beach Sen. Charles E. Shannon Jr. Memorial Beach. On Saturday, Sept. 13, 2008, the site was officially dedicated in Shannon’s honor.
“DPH encourages anyone who may have visited the Shannon Beach and Playground facility and who has any of these symptoms, particularly unresolved diarrheal illness, to contact their health care provider,” said DPH Commissioner John Auerbach. “The best prevention is washing hands with soap, particularly after using the toilet or changing diapers. Soap kills the bacteria.”
Health officials will decontaminate the beach and facilities, but Murphy said the beach will not reopen this season.
However, Condon said the beach should be open at the start of next season because the shigella bacteria isn’t hearty enough to survive the winter.