Health officials with Southwest Public Health Department announced yesterday that the agency was looking into an apparent outbreak of E. coli that has sickened at least 6 people and killed 2 children.
Escherichia coli, or E. coli, as it is more commonly known, is a bacterium that ordinarily lives in the lower digestive tract of warm-blooded animals, including humans. Most strains of it are harmless to people but the O157:H7 strain is not. And it is the O157:H7 strain that health officials say they have found in this outbreak’s victims.
E. coli infection is a fecal-borne disease that can be spread through improper or inadequate handwashing and contaminated food. The experts looking into this case have not speculated on a source of the outbreak but working with animals, eating raw or undercooked meats, consuming unpasteurized milk and drinking untreated water are all known risk factors for the infection.
Symptoms of E. coli can include:
- Abdominal cramps
- Diarrhea, which may be bloody
Preschoolers, older adults and anyone with a weakened immune system who contracts E. coli are especially prone to a complication known as hemolytic uremic syndrome, which can result in permanent kidney damage or even kidney failure.
Earlier this year the peanut butter substitute I.M. Healthy brand SoyNut Butter was linked to a multi-state outbreak of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli O157:H7 that sickened at least 32 people-81% of whom were kids–in 12 states.
By contrast, in the Utah case it appears, so far, that the outbreak is limited to the small, semi-closed community of Hildale. There appears to be, say officials, no apparent risk to anyone outside that area.
Few details were provided about the victims other than the fact that 2 of them were children. There was no word on the ages of the children.