City of Austin warns people not to swim in Bull Creek

The City of Austin is asking people not to swim in Bull Creek after reports that at least three people developed an infectious disease from bacteria there.

High levels of fecal bacteria have been identified in the water, but dozens of people spent Saturday afternoon at Bull Creek District Park taking a break from the heat by getting their feet wet.

“We've been here for a couple hours and people have been jumping in the pool, children have been, babies have been, adults have been wading in the pool, many of them going under,” said Ron Marchiani who was visiting the park Saturday.

That's exactly what the City of Austin is warning people not to do.

“The general recommendation is not to go swimming in Bull Creek, but certainly not get any of it in your mouth, wash your hands before you touch anything or handle food, things like that, but, again, we recommend that people not swim in there,” said Dr. Phil Huang with the Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services Department.

There have been three confirmed cases of Shigellosis from people who had been swimming at Bull Creek in the days prior to developing the illness. The Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services Department is also investigating reports of more cases that have not yet been confirmed.

“Shigella's a bacterial infection caused by ingestion through the mouth, a lot of fecal oral contact, and it causes diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, cramping, sometimes a little blood in the stool,” said Huang. 

Those who visited the park Saturday said they had no idea they were putting themselves or their children in danger.

“If the bacteria levels are high, somehow the message has to get out a little bit stronger. Because obviously these people didn't know that and I didn't know it,” Marchiani said.

“I see that there's one sign posted here, but it's quite vague and doesn't give much detail about anything. So the fact that there is bacteria causing illnesses that could potentially harm children, that's something that the public needs to be informed about. Somehow, some way, a little bit better than just a sign that says, ‘Hey, be careful,’” said David Fornelli who was at Bull Creek Saturday.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said there are about 450,000 cases of Shigellosis in the United States each year, 70 of them fatal.

After learning of the high levels of fecal bacteria at Bull Creek, many people at the park changed their minds about getting in the water.

“I'm not going in the water at all. My plan was to dive right in, but as soon as we had this little chat, I don't plan on going in at all,” Fornelli said.

Others who already took a dip, hoped to find another way to prevent any kind of bacterial infection.

“Maybe a good iodine shower will work right now,” said Marchiani. 

The Health and Human Services Department said any natural body of water does have some risk of elevated bacteria levels and as the water flow slows down, the risk goes up.

Anyone who spent time in the water at Bull Creek and develops symptoms of Shigellosis is encouraged to contact their doctor.