Anyone hoping to grab a late supper or snack tonight in Atlantic Beach, NC, is out of luck. Same goes for this weekend, possibly.

Thirty restaurants in the barrier island community voluntarily closed today at the request of local officials because E. coli has been found in the town’s water supply. The restaurant operators didn’t have much choice, though, as the county health department was ready to suspend operations at eateries that did not close.

“We’re requesting this in order to protect the public from exposure to E.coli, which has been identified in the Atlantic Beach water supply,” David Jenkins, county health department deputy director, told reporter Mike Shutak of the Carteret County News-Times.

“By allowing restaurants to close on their own, an immediate suspension will not be issued from our department, should they comply.”

The Atlantic Beach Water Department issued a boil order today, posting a news release on the city’s website and Facebook page. The department discovered the E. coli contamination when routine monthly sampling this week showed the bacteria at higher levels than allowed by state law.

Until further notice, everyone in Atlantic Beach should not use tap water for drinking, making ice, brushing teeth, washing dishes or preparing food unless they boil it for at least one minute, according to the water department order.

E. coli bacteria can cause serious infections, especially in young children, the elderly, pregnant women and people with compromised immune systems, including cancer patients and transplant recipients.

Advice for residents, visitors
Anyone who has consumed water in recent days and developed symptoms of E. coli infection should seek medical attention and tell their doctors about the possible exposure to the bacteria.

Symptoms usually begin two to eight days after exposure and can include diarrhea that is usually watery but sometimes bloody, abdominal cramps, fever, nausea and vomiting, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Most people infected with E. coli recover in a few days, but some require hospitalization because of dehydration. Others, especially children younger than five, sometimes develop the potentially fatal condition of hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). It is marked by easy bruising, pallor, and decreased urine output, according to the CDC.

City says ‘not it’
Local officials in Atlantic Beach contend the water contamination is not a sign of troubles in the city’s water treatment system. They cited the “many samples” takes this month, emphasizing that only one showed excessive E. coli. It was collected at a retail location — not a restaurant.

“Our water staff is actively going over the system and its processes. We feel the quality of water leaving the plant is not the problem and that any bacterial contamination can occur when increased run-off enters the drinking water source, for example, following heavy rains,” according to the city’s news release.

“It can also happen due to a break in the distribution (pipes), or faulty backflow prevention valves on users’ properties, or contaminated containers sent to the lab for testing.”

City employees are working through the weekend, searching and sampling, according to the news release. The water department is chlorinating and flushing the water system.

“… we are increasing sampling all over town to verify the problem and fix it as soon as possible. We hope to be able to lift the (boil) advisory as soon as possible.”

Town Manager David Jenkins told the News-Times restaurants can immediately reopen when the boil order is lifted.

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