One of Clark County's most popular swimming holes may reopen in time for what's predicted to be the hottest weekend so far this year.
Health officials closed Klineline Pond at Salmon Creek Park last week after several people got ill after swimming there. Water testing revealed the pond had fecal coliform levels above what is considered safe for human contact.
But water tests from Monday showed the bacteria level had dropped back into the "safe" zone. Health officials are waiting for results from Wednesday's tests before deciding whether to open the pond to swimmers, said Dr. Alan Melnick, Clark County health officer.
"We'll make a decision by the end of the week of whether to open for the weekend," Melnick said. "I understand it's going to be hot and people are going to want to swim."
The bacteria sickened at least four people who had direct contact with Klineline, as well as two others who caught the bug from someone who was ill. Laboratory tests will determine whether another nine probable cases are shigella cases, Melnick said.
The shigella bacteria is spread through fecal-oral transmission and can cause bloody diarrhea, fever and stomach cramps beginning within days of exposure.
Clark County Public Health was first alerted to a case of shigella sonnei (a specific species of the bacteria) on July 17 after a family of four became ill. Shigella bacteria can come from a variety of sources, including food and water, Melnick said.
"When we have one case and you consider all the places that one case has been, it's difficult to determine the source," he said.
Public health staff interviewed the ill people, asking about recent behaviors to try to determine the origin of the illness, Melnick said.
Health officials did the same thing when the second shigella case was reported to public health on July 24. The one thing the two families had in common was exposure to Klineline, Melnick said.
Then, on July 25, a third case of shigella — again, with ties to Klineline Pond — was reported to public health. Health officials closed the pond to swimmers that day. Water samples confirmed the presence of fecal coliforms in the pond, Melnick said.
Water monitoring changes?
Klineline Pond wasn't the first closure of a Clark County swimming spot this year.
In June, health officials closed Lacamas Lake to swimmers after discovering blue-green algae. The advisory was lifted a week later.
Health officials don't regularly monitor
most local bodies of water. The only natural body of water that receives regular attention from public health is Vancouver Lake. Health officials test the water in Vancouver Lake for fecal coliforms every two weeks and conduct visual inspections for algae, Melnick said.
The recent closures, however, may mean a change in practice.
"I think we'll be looking into what kind of monitoring programs we'll have at other bodies of water," Melnick said.
Still, Melnick said, monitoring doesn't guarantee anything.
"I cannot ever guarantee completely, 100 percent the safety of a natural body of water," he said. "Conditions can change."
Melnick suggests swimmers young and old use the bathroom before hopping in and advises parents to keep diapers out of the water. Swimmers should also wash their hands with soap and clean water after swimming and avoid swallowing the water.
"It comes down to, 'Don't poop in the pond,'" he said.