The Billings Gazette has reported that cantaloupe appears to be the culprit that caused several children to fall ill at a Billings day-care center.
Medical sleuths at the Yellowstone City-County Health Department deduced that the tainted melon was the likely source of an E. coli O157:H infection that sickened at least six children, ages 18 months to 5, at the Little Seeds Early Childhood Center, 2800 Fourth Ave. N.
The news was announced Friday by Dr. Doug Moore, chief medical director and assistant health officer for the Yellowstone City-County Health Department.
How the cantaloupe became infected with the bacteria is still under study and may never be known, Moore said. Lab tests confirmed that six children were infected with this particular E. coli strain. In some cases, E. coli O157:H has been known to cause serious illness in children, including kidney problems, and require hospitalization. None of the Little Seeds youngsters needed hospital care, Moore said.
Interviews with parents and Little Seed staff revealed that more people may have been infected with E. coli, but those cases have not been confirmed with a lab test. The interviews also helped health department investigators pinpoint the source of the problem, Moore said.
While investigating the E. coli outbreak, the health department also discovered eight cases of campylobacteriosis in children associated with the Billings day-care center. Three of the eight also had the E. coli infection.
Like E. coli, campylobacteriosis is a bacterial infection with symptoms of diarrhea and abdominal cramping. Unlike E. coli, campylobacteriosis symptoms also may include fever and/or vomiting.
Both infections occur two to five days after exposure, last about a week and generally clear up on their own. Campylobacteriosis, often associated with handling raw poultry or eating undercooked poultry, is much more common than E. coli and much less likely to cause serious complications.