Health district testing runners who got sick

Southern Nevada Health District officials are testing fecal samples from runners in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas marathon to determine what caused some to become ill during the race.

The samples are being tested for norovirus, commonly referred to as the stomach flu, and other diseases and gastrointestinal illnesses. Results are expected later this week, said Jennifer Sizemore, health district spokeswoman.

Las Vegas runner Kim, who asked that her last name be withheld, gave a stool sample to the health district after she became sick during the half marathon.

Lower back pain and a strange nauseating rumble in her stomach were causes for concern, she said.

"I became sweaty, dizzy and had this horrible feeling that I was going to lose my bowels," she said. "It was this horribly disgusting feeling while I was running at the same time. I didn’t know if I was going to throw up or have diarrhea."

More than 800 marathon runners have completed a health district survey posted online last week trying to determine the cause of the mass illness, which had some runners vomiting and doubled over in stomach pain from diarrhea. Runners’ responses on the survey are considered to be confidential medical information by state law and won’t be shared outside of the investigation, according to the online survey.

"It’s just a tool for us at this point to see if we can find out if something occurred, or if this was just one of those things that happened," Sizemore said. "I don’t know that we’ll get any definitive answers from the survey, but it’s the best way to gather information. I don’t want to give any impression that, ‘Ah ha! This happened!’ We are trying to find as much information as possible to better understand what may have occurred."

The district’s environmental health officials will reach out to race organizers next year to make sure they know the appropriate way to handle water and distribute it to race participants, Sizemore said.

It’s unclear how many runners were sickened during and after the Dec. 4 race, but dozens have posted their stories about falling ill on the event’s Facebook page. Many have threatened to boycott the race.

Some runners are blaming the quality of the water, which was pumped from nearby hydrants. Others are pointing their fingers at plastic-lined garbage cans where the water was stored and at event volunteers wearing plastic gloves who dipped cups into the garbage cans before passing the water to runners.

Officials with San Diego-based Competitor Group, which owns all the Rock ‘n’ Roll events nationwide, said that the water distribution process was not unusual and that they are investigating the matter.

Las Vegas Valley Water District officials said the water from the fire hydrants was potable and tested clean days before the race.

Runner Charlene Ragsdale, who participated in the half marathon, said she became violently ill during the race and was rushed to the hospital where she was treated for hypothermia and dehydration.

"We’ve got to find an answer to keep this from happening again," she said. "I think (the health district) realizes they’re looking for a needle in a haystack."

The 50-year-old runner said she thinks health officials should examine the plastic liners used in garbage cans where the water was stored.

"Unless they can get something out of the liners, I don’t think they’ll find an answer," Ragsdale said. "Who wants to eat out of a garbage bag even it was clean?"

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