Health officials investigate illness possibly connected to Big Island

Image 1 of 3

Some boaters who spent time near Lake Minnetonka's Big Island are on the road to recovery after becoming sick during the 4th of July holiday weekend.

Meanwhile, the health department is still trying to figure out the cause for so many illnesses.

Boater Austin Hilgenberg is among the more than 30 people who fell ill.

“You have the fever, the vomiting, the diarrhea, but I would say the most uncommon symptom that I’ve been dealing with is the achiness,” he said.

Seven out of the nine people on his boat got sick about two days after the party. Now, the Hennepin County Health Department is working to figure out the source.

Currently, it looks like a food or waterborne illness, but the investigation is still underway.

“Did they go swimming in the water? Did they accidentally ingest some water and what were they eating before they went on the boat? What were they drinking when they were on the boat?” asked Dave Johnson, Epidemiology Manager for the health department. 

Johnson said knowing what caused so many to get sick is important for prevention, and if it’s not foodborne, it’s possible someone who was sick used the lake like a toilet. In that case, how to prevent that from happening again is rather obvious.

“We tell people, 'don’t poop or pee in the water.' It’s that simple. It’s that simple,” he said.

But, at a Big Island party, it’s really not that simple.  

“The boats get themselves locked in,” explained Hennepin County Inspector Joe Jurusik. “These people have no place to go, so you can imagine if you’re starting your day at 10 or 11 in the morning and you’re going to be there until 11 at night, you’re gonna have to go to the toilet. Most people don’t have toilets on their boat, so they jump in the water and lower their trunks, I guess, and let it go.”

With that said, Austin Hilgenberg said he loves the lake and is not afraid to jump in again.

“I’m feeling a lot better now. I still kinda have a little bug, but, overall, I can say I’m on the up… I’m definitely gonna be on the lake this weekend.”

As of Wednesday morning, the county has returned 140 phone calls from people who reported being ill, 116 of which have met the case definition - meaning they were at “Big Island” during the 4th of July weekend and have since exhibited symptoms of vomiting and/or multiple episodes of diarrhea.

Hennepin County Health said we should know the source by the end of the week.