GREENVILLE, N.C. — The Pitt County health department ordered all restaurants that use city water to close after testing found fecal contamination in the water system.
Traces of fecal coliform were found in water samples on Wednesday, prompted about 500 restaurants to shut down, utility officials said.
Further test results expected Thursday afternoon will determine whether the restaurants will remain closed Friday.
"It's a big impact," Brad Morton, the assistant general manager of a Ham's restaurant said. "It hurts all the way around. It has a big ripple effect across the board on everybody."
Utility department officials said they think they have isolated the source of contamination to a three-mile stretch of pipe on County Line Road in Greenville, but they have not said what caused the contamination.
Bacterial contamination can occur when increased run-off enters the drinking water source or because of a break in the distribution system or a failure in the water treatment process, officials said.
Health officials are advising residents to either boil their water before using it or used bottled water for drinking, making ice, washing dishes and food preparation.
They say, however, it is OK to use water for bathing but urge people to use hand sanitizer when they are done.
A spokeswoman at Pitt County Memorial Hospital said the hospital had seen about 25 patients complaining of gastrointestinal problems by Thursday afternoon, but that is about average on a typical day.