It is now official that hemolytic uremic syndrome was not was killed 12-year-old Kayla Nicole Sutter. Cultures taken from the Wesley Chapel girl came back negative Wednesday for the strain of E. coli associated with the debilitating kidney infection, according to the Pinellas-Pasco Medical Examiner’s Office.
Kayla, a seventh-grader at Weightman Middle School, collapsed at her Meadow Pointe home the morning of March 23 after battling an unknown illness for days, according to the Pasco Sheriff’s Office. Her family told a Pasco epidemiologist that she had visited the petting zoo at the Florida Strawberry Festival in Plant City, one of two fairs linked to the recent E. coli outbreak.
Her link to the petting zoo and other factors were enough for state health authorities to suspect HUS and label her death an unconfirmed case, but an autopsy showed no trauma. The cultures were tested by the state health department, but toxicology and histology tests have yet to be completed.
“They are negative for the E. coli strain, and that’s pretty self-explanatory,” said Bill Pellan, the medical examiner’s director of investigations. “If the cultures are negative that pretty much rules (HUS) out as a cause of death.”
While the medical examiner reached a clinical decision in Kayla’s death, state investigators must still make an epidemiological decision before removing her from the list of suspected HUS cases. The number of confirmed cases rose from 17 Tuesday to 22 Wednesday, and the number of suspected cases rose to 24.
All the patients suffered diarrhea and tested positive for HUS or the specific strain of E. coli it is linked to. The syndrome and the strain can be contracted from contact with animals, such as at the fairs’ petting zoos, or eating undercooked or tainted meat.
With Sutter being preliminarily cleared of HUS, authorities have announced that to date none have died from HUS in the Florida fair cases.