Local woman says she contracted worms from a Lowcountry lake

Berkeley County, SC—A local woman says she was diagnosed with a parasite that she contracted from a Lowcountry lake.

Abigayle Williams says she learned how to swim on Lake Marion and has grown up fishing, boating and swimming on the lake. However, she says she is done swimming in the lake.

Williams said the pain started around Christmas of last year. “Fever, vomiting, faint and then a lot of abdominal pain.” After almost 6 months of doctors’ visits, she finally received a diagnosis this Tuesday.

“They did a colonoscopy and endoscopy and the found out I had worms from swimming in the lake.” She says her doctors have deduced that she most likely contracted the parasite from swimming in Lake Marion.

The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control or DHEC has stations on Lake Marion and Lake Moultrie to monitor water quality. A spokesperson with DHEC gives the following reminder.

“It is important to understand that although water quality in South Carolina is generally good, there is always a potential risk when swimming in natural waters. Recreational water users should assume that there is always a risk of bacteria in warm freshwater sources and be aware that there is always a low-level risk of infection.”

The risk is enough to keep Abigayle out of the water. “I grew up swimming in there. Even taking my dog down there and now I won’t even let him get in there.”

We also talked to Dr. Preston Church who specializes in Infectious Diseases at MUSC. Here is how he says you can best avoid contracting a parasite when swimming in fresh water:

• DON”T SWALLOW THE WATER!!! (Seriously – this is the first step for all of these infections).
• Avoid water that has drainage feeds or any potential sewer outfall.
• Don’t swim in lakes that have been in areas of recent flooding. The floodwaters may be contaminated with animal waste that can transmit infections to humans and flooded pasture lands may drain into lakes.

Dr. Church also gave us the following information about a very rare parasitic infection associated with fresh water activities.

“This is almost always in the southern US during the summer months and is associated with warm bodies of fresh water. Most commonly associated with activities such as diving into a lake or water skiing – presumably the water forced up the nose with force may propel the organism into the nasal passages or sinuses and from there it can make its way to the brain. This infection is almost always fatal. The annual number of cases in the US is typically 5 to 10 per year, making this a VERY RARE event. I believe there was one case in South Carolina last year.”

Dr. Church says each case of an infection is different and would be treated differently. Therefore, he says the wisest move is to see your doctor and have the appropriate testing done if you think you have contracted a parasite or serious bacteria. He says, usually your doctor will need to administer a stool test to properly identify the specific causes of infection.

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