CEDAR CITY – An E. coli outbreak that has already killed two children is now reported to have spread to 11 individuals in the Hildale area.
Most of the cases are children, which has health officials and physicians worried as this particular strain of the disease is very serious and is known to cause kidney failure, Dave Heaton, a spokesman for the Southwest Utah Public Health Department, said Tuesday.
The outbreak has increased from the six cases initially reported July 1 by the health department.
Gabriella Addison Fullerton was one of two children to die last month from complications from E. coli. Fullerton was 6 years old at the time of her death on June 30. A 3-year-old boy died earlier in June.
Health officials have warned the residents of Hildale to avoid eating previously purchased ground beef and consuming raw milk. However, epidemiologists are still unsure of what originally caused the outbreak and don’t know the exact source of what’s spreading it.
“We are trying to still figure out the commonalities among these patients and we haven’t done that,” Heaton said. “There’s no confirmation that these products have made anyone sick but just to be on the safe side, we’re issuing the warning on the ground beef. As far as the raw milk, that’s something we always warn about, because it’s the health department’s opinion that you always run a risk of getting E. coli through raw milk.”
The reports of outbreak and the warnings issued are for now confined to the Hildale area as health officials do not believe the general public is at risk.
Testing has continued to show no signs of E. coli in the city’s drinking water.
While the first E. coli patient may have contracted the disease through one source, Heaton said it’s now possible the bacteria has been spread to multiple sources via contamination of food, animals and surfaces.
“The particles of the E. coli bacteria can be spread from people not washing their hands and then touching various surfaces, contaminated water or food, animal exposure, or even a dog that has maybe gotten into a contaminated dirty diaper and then licks someone’s mouth with those particles on its tongue,” Heaton said.
Symptoms of E. coli can include diarrhea, vomiting, fever and stomach cramps. Bloody diarrhea is a symptom characteristic of the strain involved in the outbreak. Symptoms will appear between one and 10 days after exposure. Most people will recover within five to seven days after becoming ill, health officials said.
“The main thing really is to be scrupulous about hand washing and proper food preparation and storage,” Heaton said.
The Southwest Utah Public Health Department advises the following in preventing E. coli infection:
- Wash hands before preparing or eating food.
- Wash hands before preparing or touching anything that enters an infant’s mouth.
- Thorough hand-washing after preparing or eating food, using the bathroom, changing diapers and contact with animals or their environments.
- Use hand sanitizer if soap and water is not available.
- Cook meats thoroughly and don’t allow raw meat to contact other food.
- Avoid raw milk and unpasteurized dairy products/juices.
- Don’t swallow water when swimming.
More information can be found at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s E. coli information website.
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