Doctors believe parasite causing mysterious illness in Atlanta neighborhood

State and local health officials said Wednesday they are investigating a reported stomach illness that affected a group of people near Chastain Park.

Ashley Gelber told Channel 2’s Mike Petchenik she began feeling ill in late June and it lasted for weeks.

“It’s just a rumbling in your stomach and by day four it continued, into day 10, 15, you’re wondering what on earth is going on,” she said.

Gelber described symptoms that included diarrhea, cramping and fatigue.

“It’s like having the stomach flu for a full month,” she said.

Gelber said her doctor concluded she likely had a parasite known as cystoisosporiasis, and when she posted about it on a community bulletin in Buckhead, she was surprised to hear of other cases around her home near Chastain Park.

“My next door neighbor says, 'I had it for three weeks, finally went to the doctor,' the neighbor across the street the same thing, the neighbor across the street’s husband, same thing, so there’s something going around,” she said.

Northside Hospital emergency medicine physician Kathleen Funk told Petchenik the parasite is fairly rare in the United States, and more common in developing nations.

“Every now and then we have an outbreak,” she said.

Funk just arrived back from a medical mission trip to Kenya, where she said she saw many similar parasitic illnesses.

She said cystoisosporiasis is self-limiting and easily controlled with the use of medicines, such as Bactrum.

“Stay well-hydrated,” she said for those who contract the illness. “Water.  Half water, half Gatorade.

Funk said the parasite is not found in the local water system, but it can be present on imported fruits and vegetables that aren’t washed properly.

Petchenik reached out to Atlanta Watershed about the illness and a spokesman emailed him this comment:

“At this time, there are no indicators that this stems from our system. Our treatment process is about six times more efficient for removing bacteria than mandated by federal law, and is designed to remove particulates including the bacteria spores that cause diseases.

"Testing mandated by the US Environmental Protection Agency from 2011 to 2013 on our raw water source, the Chattahoochee River, did not indicate presence of Cryptosporidium at concentrations of concern. In addition, the Fulton County Health Department, which monitors outbreaks, does not have a record of any confirmed cases of Cryptosporidium."

About the Author