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December 20, 2014

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Health officials can’t pinpoint source of Las Vegas marathon illnesses

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Steve Marcus

A race crew team offers water to runners during the Zappos.com Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas Marathon Sunday, December 4, 2011.A spokeswoman for the Southern Nevada Health District said the agency is trying to find a cause of the reported illnesses during the marathon. Some runners complained about the taste of the water but people could have gotten sick from a common source that has nothing to do with the water, she said.

Despite survey responses from more than 1,000 people, health officials can’t yet pinpoint the source of an outbreak of diarrhea, abdominal cramps, nausea and other symptoms reported after the Dec. 4 Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas Marathon.

In its preliminary report, the Southern Nevada Health District says that any connection between the illnesses and the race water supply--water from fire hydrants, tested beforehand, was used to fill pitchers and mixed with a sports drink -- appear “inconsistent” with survey results.

Meanwhile, the survey identified seven events from which the cluster of sickness may have spawned: A Health and Fitness Expo on Dec. 2 and 3; a pasta party Dec. 3; Las Vegas Great Santa Run Dec. 3; Kick Off Party at Tao Nightclub Dec. 3; pre-race brunch Dec. 4; and pre-race Cheap Trick concert Dec. 4.

“While our initial testing has been unable to identify the pathogen, our initial analysis of the survey data indicates that the outbreak is most likely infectious in nature,” said Dr. Lawrence Sands, chief health officer. “We are continuing to test the samples we’ve received from runners to identify the cause. At this time, our investigation does not point to water given to runners as the likely source of the infection.”

Runners by the hundreds complained about getting sick after the race on a Facebook page. Those were in addition to complaints about the race itself, which was viewed by many as too crowded.

Of 1,068 online surveys completed, the Health District said the median onset time for symptoms for marathon runners was 8:15 p.m., Dec. 4; and 8:30 p.m. for half-marathon runners.

The problem with the theory that the water supply led to illness, the report says, is there isn’t proof that the water consumption came first--in other words, runners who were ill “may have consumed water after becoming ill in order to try and prevent dehydration, after vomiting or as part of their normal race-running process.”

In addition, the report says no one reported getting sick after drinking Cytomax, the sports drink, which was made by adding powder to the same water.

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  1. I don't think one can deny people got sick during and after the Las Vegas Marathon. However, as one who's attended many marathons - I can attest it's normal to see this occur. Running, for some people, can be darned stressful on the GI tract. What we don't know is how this race compared to others in rates of sickness. Thus, were more people sick at this race, percentage-wise, than others? I dislike reducing human suffering to a statistics question. But, doing so does seem to be the way to answer, "What happened?"