North Carolina health officials are now investigating at least 12 E. coli cases, many of which may be linked to a petting zoo at the N.C. State Fair.
Early signs:
The patients at Children’s Hospital range in age from 15 months to 14 years, although hemolytic-uremic syndrome usually afflicts only young children. The syndrome can lead to death or long-term problems such as high blood pressure or chronic kidney problems in 10 percent to 15 percent of the cases, Benfield said.
Initial signs of the illness are abdominal pain and prolonged diarrhea followed by bloody diarrhea. Several days later, patients can become pale and listless, the first signs of impending kidney problems.
E. coli is a type of bacterium found commonly in the intestines of cattle that poses no risk to the animals but causes gastro-intestinal problems in humans. Meat that comes in contact with contaminated feces during the butchering or packing process can carry E. coli, but the bacteria is easily killed during cooking for most cuts of beef. However, ground beef could have the bacteria throughout the meat, not just on the surface, and the ground beef needs to be cooked all the way through to kill E. coli.
That’s why it’s important to make sure all hamburgers are cooked until brown in the middle, said Ann Slattery, a toxicologist at Children’s Hospital. If people eating in restaurants get hamburgers that aren’t fully cooked, the meat should be sent back and returned on a fresh plate with a fresh bun, she said.
Other precautions include drinking only pasteurized juices and milk, washing all fruits and vegetables in hot water, not drinking pool or lake water, and washing hands.