ST. GEORGE — Two young children have died of an E. coli infection after an outbreak of the bacterial disease affected several residents in Hildale over the past two weeks.
Family members of 6-year-old Gabriella Addison Fullerton confirmed to St. George News that the little girl died Friday after an unrelated 3-year-old boy died of the same illness earlier that week.
Six cases of E. coli infection, including the two children, are confirmed by the Southwest Utah Public Health Department to have affected patients in a small area of Hildale.
“The outbreak appears to be confined to a limited area of Hildale and risk to the larger community is not considered to be significant at this time,” a news release issued Monday afternoon by the Southwest Utah Public Health Department states.
The source of the outbreak is still undetermined and is currently being investigated by health department personnel. The investigation is currently focusing on exposure to animals or tainted food as possible causes.
Tests of the water supply have repeatedly come back clean, David Heaton, Southwest Utah Public Health Department public information officer, said previously.
Gabriella first fell ill June 22, Jared Rosado, the girl’s grandfather, said, adding that she was taken to Dixie Regional Medical Center for treatment but was sent home twice.
“The parents were upset because they sent her home knowing she had E. coli and that a little boy in the same housing complex had died already,” Rosado said. “So they drove her to Cedar City to the hospital where she was then taken to Primary Children’s Hospital by ambulance.”
She died a short while later.
“Well, the hospital in St. George should never have sent her home twice,” Rosado said. “May not have changed the outcome, but there was a chance.”
While Dixie Regional Medical Center officials are aware of the outbreak, the hospital was unable to comment about specific patients when asked by St. George News due to federal privacy laws.
“Whenever a life is lost, it’s a tragic situation, and our hearts are heavy,” Terri Draper, Intermountain Healthcare’s southwest region communications director for Dixie Regional Medical Center, said.
A GoFundMe fundraiser has been set up by Gabriella’s family to help pay for funeral and medical costs.
E. coli symptoms and prevention
Disease-causing strains of E. coli are usually spread to humans when tiny amounts of human or animal feces are ingested. These particles can come from unwashed hands, contaminated water or food and animal exposure.
Symptoms of E. coli can include stomach cramps, diarrhea, vomiting and fever of 101 degrees or lower. Bloody diarrhea is a symptom characteristic of the strain involved in the outbreak. Symptoms will appear between one to 10 days after exposure.
Most people will recover within five to seven days after becoming ill, but a health care provider should be contacted for those showing symptoms.
E. coli infection can be prevented by thorough hand washing after animal exposure, using the restroom, changing diapers and before and after food preparation.
Raw meat should be separated from other foods. Meat should be cooked to safe temperatures of at least 165 degrees and foods that can spoil within two hours should be kept refrigerated.
The health department cautions against drinking raw milk or unpurified water from streams, ponds or lakes.
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