high falls water park

Michael Head, left, and Park Davis at the High Falls Water Park, where 17 people reported contracting a stomach virus according to the health department. (File photo)

Monroe County Health Department confirmed 17 cases of illness within 24 hours of visiting High Falls Water Park on Tuesday, June 11, Amber Erickson of the North Georgia Health District told the Monroe County Board of Health at its quarterly meeting. Environmental Health Director Gina Smith and her staff checked the water at all four attractions at the High Falls Water Park and found everything to be in compliance.

The Environmental Health staff also checked the concessions at the Water Slide and found no violations that would have caused the illnesses. Erickson said the illnesses were gastrointestinal, characterized by six hours of vomiting and diarrhea. All of those who became sick were children who had played in the four areas of the water park within 36 hours of developing symptoms. The children were members of four unassociated groups visiting the water park.

The District Health Department is still investigating, but Erickson said it seems that the illnesses were caused by some kind of viral infection, possibly transmitted by touching a door handle or railing. 

“We got a call from a parent telling us that four or five in his group were sick,” said Erickson. “As soon as we got the call, we went and tested the water and concessions. We talked to the owners. All was in compliance. Then we got a couple more complaints. Some of the complaints went to other districts [because of where the children live.] By Friday at 3 p.m., the count was 17. There have been none since.”

Smith said there are very specific rules for water quality at public pools, frequency for testing the water and keeping records of the testing. The Health Department inspects pools and water features each spring/summer before they open. All pools must have a certified pool operator on staff. As an older water attraction, High Falls Water Park is grandfathered into older regulations so that some of its requirements are not as strict as those for a new feature like the city of Forsyth Splash Pad. 

Smith said the Health Department has never had a complaint of illness outbreak at the High Falls Water Park before. The Water Park is privately owned and is not affiliated with High Falls State Park. 

On Tuesday, June 25 the North Central Health District reported 54 cases of gastrointestinal illness in children at Rock Eagle 4-H camp the week of June 19. Samples tested by the Georgia Public Health Lab were positive for norovirus. Symptoms and length of illness are similar to the cases at High Falls Water Park. For more information on identifying, preventing and dealing with norovirus, visit the Georgia Department of Health North Central Health District website.