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Canadian Mountain Bikers Hit by Bacterial Infection

A healthy sport has turned out to be a health nightmare of sorts for some Canadians.

Within 48 hours of finishing a grueling five-hour 67-km ride, Canadian mountain biker Monica Anderson woke up in the middle of the night, feverish and vomiting. The Coquitlam teacher was so sick her husband had to rush her to hospital.

She admitted she had swallowed a few mouthfuls of the muddy, puddle-ridden course along the way.

"I didn't know what it was," said Anderson, 28. "It was the sickest I've ever been in my life. It was everything -- all bodily functions."

She was infected with campylobacter, a bacteria, and wasn't the only racer who got sick.

Online mountain bike forums like NSMB.com began buzzing with participants reporting similar symptoms.

"I may as well have lived on the toilet the last three days," posted Spaz. "Not sure what hit me (felt like a truck)," posted Shorelocal.

The Vancouver Coastal Health Authority says 18 participants or spectators at the Test of Metal mountain bike race June 16 have confirmed cases of campylobacter. Symptoms last up to seven days and include diarrhea, nausea, stomach pain, fever, and vomiting.

"All of the people who've been sick were either riders or spectators; no one from the community or surrounding area has reported symptoms," medical health officer Dr. Paul Martiquet said in a news release.

Cliff Miller, the event organizer for the past 14 years, said this is the first time anything like this has happened. Coincidentally, he said, this year's wet and rainy race day conditions were the worst he's seen.

Despite everything, it was a great time, he said.

"I think everybody had fun until they got home."

He's working with Vancouver Coastal Health and the B.C. Centre for Disease Control to try to figure out what exactly caused people to get sick. There's been a lot of rumours circulating, he said.

One suspect? The mud mixed with animal waste.

"It [the waste] gets wet. It gets washed into a puddle. It gets churned up with dirt, which turns into mud, which covers everybody," said Miller.

Suspect No. 2? The ground- water, he said.

"There's been a couple of reports of people stopping and filling up the camelpacks and water bottles at some of the creeks along the way, too," he said, adding race organizers handed out bottled water.

It's difficult to determine what the source of the infection was, said Dr. Eleni Galanis, of the B.C. Centre for Disease Control.

"Campylobacter lives in the guts of animals and humans," she said, so infections usually stem from contaminated food, water or environmental sources.

Along with testing the creeks where the race occurred, she said all 800 participants will be sent a survey relating to what they ate and drank. They want to find out the cause so it won't happen again, Galanis said.

"It's a very uncomfortable infection," she said. "Things just fly through you basically."

People usually get sick within the first 10 days of exposure, she said, and it is rarely spread from person to person.

"We think that anybody who was to become ill from this race has probably already become ill and it is unlikely that they'll spread it to anybody else," she said.

Monica Anderson said she doesn't know what caused her to get sick, but said she did get very muddy. "I know I ate some [mud] because it was all over my water bottle and on my energy gels that I had taped to my bike," said Anderson.

Now that she's better, she can laugh about it all: "It will be something to remember," she said.


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