Capital District E. Coli Update - Case Count Now Stands at 497, but Outbreak Likely Has Peaked
Albany, September 9, 1999 – Health officials now are investigating 497 reports of E. coli infection in the Capital District, including 85 confirmed cases, State Health Commissioner Antonia C. Novello, M.D. said today. Dr. Novello said the increased numbers represent a lag time in reporting cases.
Health officials believe that the E. coli outbreak associated with attendance at the Washington County Fair peaked last week. These latest numbers likely represent new case reports rather than new cases. If you attended the Fair and haven't gotten sick already, you are unlikely to do so now, except as a result of secondary infection.
A total of 51 persons have been hospitalized to date as a result of E. coli infection. Nine children developed Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS) a serious complication of E. coli infection which can result in kidney failure. One of those children died. Another elderly patient is also critically ill with kidney failure.
Health officials believe an unchlorinated well on the fairgrounds may have been the source of the outbreak. The well was located near a cow barn and surface runoff may have seeped into the underground water supply which feeds the well following a torrential rainstorm.
"I personally walked the Washington County Fairgrounds this morning to see for myself exactly how this tragic situation may have occurred," Dr. Novello said. "After seeing the location of the suspect well and cow barn, it is clear to me that vulnerable water supplies must be better protected. I will be making specific recommendations soon to address this urgent health issue."
To date, no single food item has emerged as a possible source of E. coli infection. Water consumption through products such as ice, snow cones, lemonade and tap water appears to be the most likely exposure route. Laboratory tests are continuing to try to identify the 0157:H7 strain from a water sample grossly contaminated with E. coli bacteria.
Because secondary infection by persons who may have mild cases of E. coli infection is possible, careful attention should be paid to hand washing. Persons with diarrhea should wash their hands with hot water and soap after each toilet visit, should not handle foods for others or provide child care or patient care.
E. coli infection is often, but not always, associated with consumption of undercooked ground beef. Ground beef should read 160 degrees on a meat thermometer to ensure that bacteria have been killed. Infection can also occur as a result of bare–hand contact with ready to eat foods, or as the result of cross–contamination of food preparation surfaces. Always wash your hands and food preparation surfaces thoroughly with hot, soapy water when making meals at home and do not accept ready–to–eat items (hamburger buns, pizza, pretzels, etc.) that you see a food service employee touch with their bare hands.
Those who believe they may have E. coli infection should check with their health care provider. Symptoms of the illness are diarrhea, especially bloody diarrhea although bloody diarrhea is not always present; abdominal pain or cramping; and fever, along with the other symptoms. These typically occur about three days after exposure, with a range of one to nine days. E. coli infection should not be self–treated with over–the–counter anti–diarrheal products. The latest research indicates that antibiotics are not effective in combating the disease.