Steamboat Springs Editor's note: This story has been updated from its original version to reflect that the beach was still closed Saturday.
About E. coli
Escherichia coli (abbreviated as E. coli) are a large and diverse group of bacteria. Although most strains of E. coli are harmless, others can make you sick. Some kinds of E. coli can cause diarrhea, while others cause urinary tract infections, respiratory illness and pneumonia, and other illnesses.
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Staying safe in the water
In a release issued May 24, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment officials reminded swimmers, boaters and fishers to practice healthy swimming to prevent water illnesses.
Tips for swimmers:
■ Don’t swim when you have diarrhea.
■ Don’t swallow pool water or spray water bottles filled with pool water at each other at the risk of inhaling mist or swallowing contaminated water.
■ Practice good hygiene. Shower with soap before swimming and wash your hands after using the toilet or changing diapers. Germs on your body end up in the water.
Tips for parents:
■ Don’t allow infants or children with diarrhea to enter the water.
■ Wash children thoroughly (especially the rear end) with soap and water before they go swimming.
■ Check pool water yourself using test strips purchased at your local hardware or pool supply store.
■ Ask the pool operator about chlorine and pH levels and request information on the latest pool inspection score.
■ Encourage pool operators to take steps shown to kill the germs that cause water illnesses.
■ Educate other swimmers about water illnesses to promote healthy swimming.
More information about healthy swimming is at www.cdc.gov/healthyswimming.
Elevated levels of E. coli bacteria closed the swim beach Friday at Steamboat Lake State Park.
Senior Ranger Brent Lounsbury said the E. coli level was slightly above the limit requiring closure of the beach as a safety precaution. The park in North Routt County tests the water weekly for the bacteria, he said.
Park Ranger Matthew Schuler said in an e-mail that the park is required to close the swim beach when E. coli densities reach 235 organisms per 100 milliliters. Park officials tested the water Wednesday and were notified Friday that E. coli levels were at 251.3. The lake is typically at less than one or zero, Schuler wrote. Schuler expects the beach to be closed until at least Monday.
“This is the first time the test has come back where … it exceeded it just enough that we had to close it down as a precautionary measure,” Lounsbury said.
Park officials sent another sample to a laboratory in Broomfield on Friday and expected the results Saturday. The beach was still closed as of late Saturday afternoon, however, and park officials said the test results had not come back.
Schuler wrote that he expects the swim beach to remain closed until at least Monday.
Those who want to swim at the lake can call Steamboat Lake State Park at 970-879-3922 to find out the status of the beach. Steamboat Lake remained open to boating, water skiing and other recreation. The beach’s picnic tables can be used, as well, Lounsbury said. Only swimming was prohibited.
E. coli is a bacteria that is found in the intestines of animals, including humans, and spread through feces. It can cause illness if ingested. According to information from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s website, symptoms of illness from E. coli typically appear within two to four days of exposure but can take as many as eight days.
“Most people recover without antibiotics or other specific treatment in 5-10 days,” the site states. “There is no evidence that antibiotics improve the course of disease. … Antidiarrheal agents, such as loperamide (Imodium), should also be avoided.”
Suzi Mariano, spokeswoman for the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association, said her agency hadn’t heard of any reported cases of E. coli in the area.
Lounsbury said Steamboat Lake’s swim beach hadn’t been shut down because of E. coli in the four years he has worked at the park. He said no one had reported health problems.
“It’s definitely an anomaly, and I don’t know if maybe the one sample got contaminated somehow or something because it’s just such an unusual, anomalous thing,” Lounsbury said.
He said he couldn’t think of an incident or change at the lake that would have caused elevated E. coli levels. The swim beach is closed to dogs, and he said all the water sources that enter Steamboat Lake are natural.
Lounsbury also noted that the higher E. coli levels were present only in a small corner of the 1,100-surface-acre lake.
“This is a little 10-yard-by-30-yard square we test,” he said.
Lounsbury said he wasn’t sure what action, if any, park officials would need to take if the additional test still showed high levels of the bacteria.
He said he expected good news.
“I would be pretty shocked if we got a second sample that was over that benchmark,” Lounsbury said.