Mysterious illness sickens 84 swimmers in Kitsap County lake

PORT ORCHARD, Wash. -- A health scare at a Kitsap County lake is turning into an overnight epidemic. So far 84 people have reported getting sick after swimming at Horseshoe Lake, and the source of the problem is still unknown.

In response, county parks workers shut the access gates to the popular park, though a few teenagers could still be seen swimming in the water. The director of a nearby summer camp said they were just clearing out equipment, and that Horseshoe Lake is off-limits to all his young camp-goers.

"It's a bit of a bummer for them," said Doug Chase, the vice president of Crista Camps. "They'd love to be out on the water toys and having a blast, but we feel like the conservative approach is best."

Public health workers started getting reports over the weekend of people getting sick after swimming at Horseshoe Lake. Symptoms include intense stomach problems, vomiting and worse. In addition, the number of people getting sick keeps going up.

A norovirus is suspected, but tests results on water samples have yet to come back. For now, county workers have posted warning signs around the shore and closed off access to the public beach.

"We were going to have a family reunion out here this weekend and now I have to get a hold of everyone and let them know it's going to be somewhere else, or canceled," said Diana Hughes, who showed up hoping to find more information posted on the locked gate.

Robert Mozeleski found a spot to cast his line near an open boat launch. He heard about the contamination problems, and tried to warn a dog walker who came out to play fetch.

"I told him he might want to think twice before he let his dog out there, and he said, 'I'll just take him home and wash him,'" Mozeleski said.

Mozeleski says he won't take any chances going for a swim until the county tracks down the source.

"My first thought was maybe it was septic back up or something," he said.

The parks department does plan to re-clean the public restrooms.

Chase says the summer camp will also wait it out, and his staff has resorted to setting up sprinklers for the kids, until it's safe to go back in the water.

"They are looking forward to their day-swim so we'll have to double up on swim time when we get the green light for them," Chase said.

Water sample results should be available on Tuesday. That will tell health workers if it's a bacteria or a virus, and hopefully help them pinpoint what is causing the problem.