Officials investigate link between dozens of illnesses, Animal Kingdom tour

Health department investigates Disney's 'Wild Africa Trek'

Published On: Jul 26 2012 09:04:31 AM EDT   Updated On: Jul 26 2012 05:32:49 PM EDT
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -

The Orange County Health Department is investigating Walt Disney World's "Wild Africa Trek" experience after several dozen parkgoers became ill.

Orange County Health Department spokesman Dain Weister confirmed with Local 6 that the majority of the illnesses, described as a stomach bug, were reported in June. Since the illness was first reported in early June, more cases continued to appear. Since then, Disney said it voluntarily did a "deep clean" of the affected area and stepped up measures to promote hand-washing and the use of hand-sanitizers.

"We are working closely with the Orange County Health Department to review the situation," said Disney spokeswoman Andrea Finger.

Symptoms were nausea, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and in some cases vomiting, Weister said. Symptoms usually lasted two to five days. Two people felt sick enough to go to the emergency room, although none were hospitalized overnight.

One guest posted his experience on www.DISboards.com more than a month ago. That guest was so sick he "even ended up in the ER." It appears, he was the first to come down with the illness. He called Disney and prompted the health department to "launch an investigation" that is ongoing. He wrote that he and two friends went on the tour and all -- from "3 separate households" -- were sick within 24 hours.

"It is difficult for epidemiologists to track down the specific source," said Wiester. "A lot of times, they don't actually find a source."

It's also a mystery how the outbreak was able to spread from person to person. The trek features VIP access to crocodiles, hippos and exotic animals in Disney's Animal Kingdom through a guided tour and a tasting of African-inspired foods on a savannah. Weister confirmed none of the guests on the tour touch animals, and so officials have ruled out animal-to-human transmissions. While some guests thought it was a food-borne illness, that's also still unclear.

"The health department also did inspections - two different inspections - of the restaurant that provides food to that tour. No problems were found whatsoever," said Weister.

Another guest wrote on the online forum that they were "extremely sick," saying, "it was the sickest I've ever been." By then, the health department's investigation was underway and that guest, along with everyone who went on the tour, were sent a letter explaining the situation.

"The majority of the symptoms have been more mild than severe," said Weister. "We're just trying to trace back and figure out exactly what may have caused this."

The health department said it has interviewed hundreds of people in an attempt to piece together what links the sickness between patients. So far, those who did not get sick said they often wash their hands and use hand-sanitizer.