Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services reports that ten Kentuckians recently tested positive with a strain of E. coli O157:H7. Of the cases, two individuals developed a rare but serious condition called hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). Public health investigators have not yet identified the source of the outbreak but have noted that some sort of food distribution is likely.
The reported cases primarily include adults, many of whom reside in western Kentucky. No deaths linked to the outbreak have been reported but six people have been hospitalized. Health care providers have been notified of the outbreak and are advised to be alert for patients experiencing acute diarrheal illness, which could be associated with E. coli. This is a particular strain of E. coli that produces a type of toxin (Shiga toxin) that can be dangerous for those infected.
Symptoms of E. coli O157:H7 typically include stomach cramps and diarrhea, including bloody diarrhea, and people generally become ill two to five days after consuming contaminated food. E. coli O157:H7 sometimes leads to HUS, a serious complication that can cause kidney failure and can occur a week or more after the onset of diarrhea. Those most at risk of developing complications from E. coli infection include the very young, the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems. State health officials are working with staff at local health departments in the counties with suspected or confirmed cases to determine the source of the infections.
The public can help prevent E. coli infections by:
• Washing hands frequently for at least 20 seconds with soap and warm water, especially before eating, after going to the bathroom, handling raw meat and eggs, and after handling or petting animals;
• Thoroughly washing produce before eating;
• Thoroughly cooking meat;
• Cleaning and sanitizing food preparation areas;
• Avoiding swallowing lake or pool water;
• Drinking only pasteurized milk;
• Frequently cleaning and sanitizing restrooms, including door knobs and faucets; and
• Reporting diarrheal illnesses to your physician.