Does your child have diarrhea? Been to a petting zoo lately? You might want to put down that over-the-counter remedy and take him/her to the hospital right away.
Children all over the Orlando area are being admitted into hospitals this past week with cases of hemolytic uremic syndrome, better known as HUS. The uncommon condition causes kidneys to malfunction and is potentially fatal.
Four children are at Florida Hospital, of which three are listed in critical condition and the fourth on dialysis. Two children are at Arnold Palmer Hospital for Women and Children, with a third just diagnosed today. That makes a total of seven children just in this past week. All children had been to area fairs, including the Central Florida Fair in Orlando and the Florida Strawberry Festival in Plant City, between March 3-13.
The Orlando Sentinel reports that health officials are currently not certain as to whether the exposure to bacteria was caused by the petting zoos at the fairs or contaminated food and beverages, and are conducting interviews with the families to get more information.
HUS is most often caused by a specific form of the E. coli bacteria that live in the intestinal tracts of many animals. This form – E. coli O157:H7 – has been linked to outbreaks of kidney failure among children in other states, including Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Washington. In the Florida cases, however, not all children have tested positive for E. coli. That could indicate a source other than farm animals as the cause of their infections.
Health officials are retesting the children for E. coli and are awaiting those results from a state lab in Jacksonville and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.
“We don’t know yet what the common denominator is,” said Joann Schulte, a medical epidemiologist with the Florida Department of Health in Tallahassee. “Certainly, the petting zoos are of interest, but we don’t know if they’re the source of the infections.”
Once a child is infected, he or she typically suffers from a bout of diarrhea that can last for several days. Inside the body, a toxin produced by the E. coli is attacking red blood cells, sometimes causing fragments of the cells to clog the tiny vessels in the kidneys. The kidneys stop functioning normally, and the child begins to show decreased urination and puffiness as liquids in the body are not regulated properly. Parents should be mindful of these symptoms.
“We are ready for any number of cases,” said Dr. Mehul Dixit, a pediatric nephrologist with Florida Hospital Orlando, where four children are being treated. “We will make all necessary arrangements to make sure they get the care they need.”