A popular ziplining attraction in Tennessee has been linked to more than 500 instances of gastrointestinal illness. The massive number of illnesses came to light after dozens of visitors to CLIMB Works Zipline Canopy Tour in Gatlinburg began writing negative reviews related to becoming ill on the company’s social media pages. A Tennessee Department of Health’s investigation confirmed the outbreak was related to the park.
The Tennessee Department of Health sent health surveys to nearly 2,901 people who booked zip line tours with the company in June and July. According to the returned surveys, at least 550 of them became ill after visiting the location. Further testing revealed that one person was positive for norovirus and enteropathogenic E. coli, while at least another 15 people tested positive for norovirus.
E. coli is a naturally occurring bacteria in the intestines of animals and people. Cases of infection are typically spread by ingesting contaminated food or water, or by contact with infected humans or animals. Symptoms of enteropathogenic E. coli include watery diarrhea, stomach cramps, and fatigue. The symptoms may last several days and can cause dangerous dehydration as well as other serious complications. The elderly, the very young, and those with compromised immune systems have the highest risk of dangerous complications.
Norovirus is a contagious virus that causes inflammation in the stomach and intestines. It can be spread from contaminated food or water, or from contact with an infected person or contaminated surface. The illness is often characterized by sudden onset of nausea, stomach pain, vomiting, and diarrhea. In most cases, the symptoms will only last for one to two days, but children and the elderly more prone to more serious symptoms.
While the well water on site is a likely cause of the illnesses, the investigation is ongoing. TDH Deputy State Epidemiologist John Dunn, DVM, PhD, said, “Preliminary testing and environmental health assessments indicate the water system at the zipline facility may have contributed to the outbreak; however, there are likely other sources involved in the spread of the illnesses, including contaminated surfaces and person-to-person transmission.”
The health department says that the company is cooperating with the investigation. CLIMB Works owner Nick Thompson said in an email, “We have implemented every recommendation from the Health Department and are currently only using complimentary bottled water for our drinking water and added an additional chlorination system for our non-potable water.”