July 13, 2017
Bedford Gazette / Four Quarters

Bedford  Gazette
7/13/2017Artemas campground working to solve norovirus outbreak
By Aaron Detwiler, Gazette Staff Writer

     ARTEMAS — A southern Bedford County campground, concert venue and church property is working to correct problems that created a recent norovirus outbreak that occurred sometime between June 15 and 18.
      During an event called the Mad Tea Party Jam 6 2017 concert, numerous campers and a few band members at Four Quarters Interfaith Sanctuary near Artemas and the Maryland border fell ill following the event.
     Reviews from Four Quarters Facebook page have been filled with complaints and negative rates from those blaming the norovirus on poor sanitation. However, treasurer Orren Whiddon stated the outbreak had nothing to do with the sewage or water, but instead the most prevalent gastrointestinal complaint, norovirus.
     Barbara Althouse, a volunteer at Four Quarters, said she became ill, not before or during the event, but after.
     “We made and sold coffee, bagged ice, firewood and mead,” Althouse said. “I was in contact with many very nice people and handled money. I really don’t know where I came in contact with the virus.”
     According to Althouse, she stayed in the staff quarters and had her own room. She talked with staff members who were washing down the facilities with Clorox solutions and said “we were washing our hands with soap and water.”
     “I left Four Quarters Farm on Sunday afternoon and became ill early Monday morning after returning home,” she said. “I treated myself with Immodium and lots of fluids. On Thursday, I saw my doctor at a previously scheduled visit. He said I was treating myself correctly and it was norovirus.”
     By the weekend after her appointment, Althouse said she was feeling much better and her symptoms were intestinal discomfort and diarrhea.
     “I know that the people at Four Quarters Farm took this very seriously and have arranged inspections and testing of water and the facilities,” Althouse said.
     Though Althouse said she fell ill afterward, others became sick during the event.
     Three of five members of the band Papadosio grew sick which resulted in a cancellation of their third set, according to a JamBase web article.
     Whiddon said Four Quarters has been working with the Department of Health and Department of Environmental Protection on the issue. Both departments are investigating the outbreak.
     “We have the names of four people who arrived infected (with norovirus), and presented symptoms within 24 hours of their arrival. I cannot share that information because we respect their privacy, but that information has been forwarded,” Whiddon said. “Three of them arrived together and ran our volunteer camp for this music festival, so that’s a disaster.”
     It’s unclear whether others were sickened from exposure to norovirus or drank contaminated well water.
     DEP found evidence of e. coli contamination during its testing. E. coli presents symptoms similar to the norovirus.
     Spokesman John Repetz of the DEP said high levels of Escherichia coli were discovered in the raw well water and were “too numerous to count.”
     “It is not uncommon to discover the presence of E. coli in raw water,” Repetz said. “It is unusual to see such high levels.”
     Repetz, a community relations coordinator for the department’s south-central region, stated DEP took samples at three different locations in the distribution system, where all of the samples resulted in negative. This, he said, “indicated the treatment system is operating as it was designed to do.”
     The contamination was at the source of the raw well water, which means since the test results from various locations in the distribution system were negative, there would be no need to flush the system, according to Repetz.
     “Since the raw well water contamination remains, a boil water advisory remains in effect,” he said.
     Although the DEP did not discover E. coli in the treated drinking water within the distribution system, Whiddon said the primary wellbore had surface water contamination of E. coli, which is a “standard marker bacteria that we all look for and norovirus particles.”
     Repetz explained that because of the unusually high E.coli levels in the raw water, there is a possibility that other pathogens may be present as well.
     “Somewhere, we have a break in the seal between the surface and the wellbore,”  Whiddon said. “The water itself undergoes a 4-logged chlorination. That’s the same chlorination that allows people in Bedford to drink Juniata River water, which is equally contaminated.”
     According to Whiddon, a 4-logged chlorination kills all viruses and bacteria. “That’s why you can drink Juniata River water out of your tap in Bedford, because your river water would prove more contaminated than our well water. Well water should be very pure, so that’s what was picked up in the testing by DEP,” he said.
     According to Whiddon and Wesley Culp, a deputy press secretary of the Department of Health, norovirus is a highly communicable viral gastrointestinal infection that everybody “has had at one time or another in their lives.”
     “Norovirus is communicated by microscopic particles of human fecal matter. It is a human-to-human disease,” Whiddon explained. “It doesn’t exist outside of humans except in some very rare instances. The primary preventative is to wash your hands . . . It’s a virus, which mean it has an incubation period, typically two days.”
     “The illness often begins suddenly and the infected person may feel very sick within 24 to 48 hours,” Culp said. “In most people, the illness symptoms last for one or two days.”
     Whiddon explained that norovirus outbreaks are very common and is primarily a winter-time disease, but also has peaks during the summer travel system.
     Culp said the norovirus can cause gastroenteritis, otherwise known as the stomach flu. Symptoms of norovirus usually include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach cramp, low-grade fever, chills, headache, muscle aches and tiredness, he said.
     “You can brush your hand on the countertop at a McDonald’s ... eat your sandwich and ingest it. Two days later, you feel ill,” Whiddon said in an example. “By two days later, you’re at a baseball game, boy’s scout camp, our camp, primarily hospitals, schools, or cruise ships, and the more dense people are packed, the more likely you are to have an outbreak.”
     According to Whiddon, the staff at Four Quarters take pride in their work and do their best to keep the kitchen, restrooms, and port-a-potties clean and sanitized as best as possible.
     Ten years ago, Four Quarters Interfaith Sanctuary was hit by norovirus, and at that time they put all of their notices into place, Whiddon stated.
     “A lot of other campgrounds have it too, because it’s a common issue,” he continued. “We stocked into 10-to-1 chlorine and that’s what’s used in the food industry and it’s the nuclear weapon for viruses and bacteria, and unlike most campgrounds, we service our port-a-potties.
     The port-a-potties are hand-washed with soap and water and sprayed down with the chlorine, according to Whiddon. After the outbreak, Four Quarters was confirmed by the health department of the issue.
     “The toilet papers restocked and the port-a-potty companies do not do that,” Whiddon said. “All they do is pump the tank, and that’s why most people associate port-a-potties with being pretty unpleasant and ours are actually exceptionally clean.
     Whiddon stated the norovirus in people’s fecal matter can go into the sewage system and seep through a leak in the seal of the wellbore which, according to him, was why the viral infection was picked up from the wellbore.
     “That’s why there’s a concern anytime you can show that you have surface water contamination of a deep well,” Whiddon explained. “And then you’ll want to know why.”
     Founded in 1995 and operated for 23 years by volunteers, Four Quarters is interested in issues of agricultural sustainability and energy conservation, which is a core part of what the church does, according to Whiddon.
     A new well is in the process of being drilled since February and has been tested by the DEP, said Whiddon, who has every expectation that results will be good.
     “We drilled a hole in February for wind-powered water pumps,” he said. “We’ll switch over to the new well, so we don’t anticipate any future issues, but the well water didn’t have anything to do with the norovirus outbreak.”
     The two wells are separated by 2,900 ft. Results will be expected some time soon, Whiddon said.