ARTEMAS, Penn. — A popular festival venue for Pagan events recently experienced an outbreak of suspected dysentery. Four Quarters Interfaith Sanctuary says it’s working with the Pennsylvania Department of Health to investigate the outbreak and is taking steps to ensure the safety of future events, such as the upcoming SpiralHeart WitchCamp.
On the weekend of June 15, the Mad Tea Party took place at Four Quarters. According to Maryland Our Community Now, “By Sunday morning, reports of horrifying conditions began to emerge from festival attendees. The event page on Facebook has become an active forum for complaints as attendees report ambulance rides, hospital visits, and over 20 hours of illness after an apparent viral outbreak.” The report also says prior events this spring at Four Quarters have also experienced similar outbreaks.
Four Quarters quickly put out a message saying they were seeking answers to what caused the outbreak and asked attendees to report any health issues to the Pennsylvania Board of Health.
The venue is a popular site for Pagan and New Age events because of its central location, beautiful scenery, and modern facilities such as flushing toilets. The next Pagan event to be held at Four Quarters is SpiralHeart WitchCamp.
WitchCamp is “a week long, magical, intensive in the Reclaiming Tradition” and is scheduled to begin July 10.Gwion Raven is teaching at WitchCamp, and has been to Four Quarters for previous WitchCamp events. He describes the venue well-maintained and remembers seeing signs posted in key locations which warn about viral infections and what can be done to prevent them.
He says although the reports of illness concern him, he’s still planning to attend the event.
SpiralHeart WitchCamp messaged attendees saying they are aware of the problem: “Hello campers! In just under 3 weeks (20 days) we’re convening for our annual Summer Intensive at 4Quarters Farm. There was a recent outbreak of a viral GI illness at that venue. The PA Health Dept. has been involved, and it appears the virus was brought by recent attendees. Four Quarters is working with the PA Epidemiological Dept. and will be visiting onsite with them shortly. Our organizers are in contact with Four Quarters staff and we will update you when we have information.”
Raven says he’s going to take common sense precautions like bringing his own water and packing Pepto-Bismol, but is interested in knowing what caused the outbreak. “If the recent outbreaks have to do with the actual water system, hand-washing won’t help much,” he said.
Raven notes that viral infections at large gatherings aren’t that uncommon and says smaller events, like WitchCamp, place much less stress on a venue’s facilities.
Four Quarters put out a statement detailing what they know and the steps they put in place to limit viral infections from spreading during an event:
Recently we have suffered at Four Quarters outbreaks of a very contagious viral GI illness that is following the pattern of the 2008 season outbreaks. We have been in contact with our public health officials about Viral GI prior to the outbreak at the Mad Tea Party and have been in continuous contact since Sunday morning, June 18. We have been forwarding contact information, hospital information, test reports and samples directly to the PA Epidemiological Dept, and will be meeting with them on site shortly.
[…] In working with the PA Health Dept after our experience with Viral GI in 2008, we put into place policies and improvements under their recommendation. We believe these policies prevented a much wider outbreak at Mad Tea Party.
- We quarantine campers and campsites that display symptoms of any kind of GI distress, until it is known they are not infectious, and we supply these camps with chlorine wash-down supplies. We track arrival times, travel histories and first symptoms of cases reported to us.
- We educate through signage and publications about the nature of Viral GI. Much of our staff has passed Safe-Serve educational certification.
- During high risk events we continuously clean and chlorine wash-down all potties, water spigots, hand-wash stations and smooth public surfaces many times during the day.
- Our water supply is tested and licensed with daily chlorine readings and monthly sampling. We volunteered for this highest level of testing.
- Food vendors are safe-serve certified and are Health Dept. inspected prior to events. Our own kitchen is licensed to the commercial level with safe-serve certified staff.
Experts suggest the first line of defense against catching some type of illness at a festival is to get adequate sleep. One study suggests people who get less than six hours of sleep a night are four times more likely to catch a cold when exposed to the virus than those who get seven or more hours of sleep.They also say attendees should limit or avoid alcohol, wash hands frequently with soap and water, bring bottled water, and not share food utensils or beverage containers.