The two-year-old $32 million Opelika Sportsplex and Aquatics Center was the “common source of exposure” for an outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 that has sickened at least five Alabama children and possibly 10 others, according to Dr. Donald Williamson, state health officer.

Four children initially required hospitalization, and two have not yet been released.

Eight other children and two adults also suffered from severe gastrointestinal illnesses, but have not yet been confirmed as O157 cases. 

“Because of the risk for outbreak of illness, it is essential that public pools and water parks follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines for adequate chlorine and pH levels,” Williamson said Tuesday.

The Splash Park and 6,000 square feet Aquatic Center were initially closed June 20, treated according to CDC guidelines by the City of Opelika and reopened Sunday, according to state officials.

Located east of Montgomery in Alabama’s Lee County, the 75,000 square-foot Sportsplex and Aquatic Center, on 76 acres, is the largest project in the history of the 154-year-old city.

The Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) has been investigating the E. coli  O157:H7 outbreak since the illnesses began between June 4 and 22.  It has contacted parents of children from seven day care centers that visited the Aquatic Center during that time period.  

In a statement, ADPH said it told city officials about the problem on June 20 and collected water samples from the new Aquatic Center.

“The ADPH Bureau of Clinical Laboratories ran the initial tests, which were negative for bacteria,” the agency said in a statement.  “Negative results do not guarantee that bacteria was not present.  Additional water samples have been collected and sent to the CDC for testing and results are pending.”

The state health officials asked parents to be alert for symptoms of the illness, which can take 10 days to surface. They said parents should be on the look out for nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or abdominal cramps and take their children to a doctor if  any of the symptoms occur.

People can pick up infections in recreational waters by ingesting contaminated waters in pools, water parks, rivers, lakes and even the ocean.

The South’s best known water park outbreak occurred in 1998 at Atlanta’s White Water Park, when 26 people were infected with O157, including Atlanta Braves star Walt Weiss’s son Brody.