Health officials seek parents’ help in E. coli investigation

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By Steve Guntli

Local, state and federal health agencies are reaching out to local parents to determine the source of the recent E. coli outbreak.

The Whatcom County Health Department has partnered with the Washington State Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to get to the bottom of the outbreak, which has affected more than 50 people, mostly young children.

Investigators are working to find the source of the outbreak. Health officials believe the bacteria originated at the Milk Makers Festival at the Northwest Washington Fairgrounds in Lynden on April 21. More than 1,300 primary school students from Blaine, Bellingham, Ferndale, Lynden and Nooksack school districts visited the festival on a field trip between April 21 and 23.

Representatives of the three agencies are reaching out to parents of children who attended the festival to complete a short survey of their child’s activities. The affected school districts sent out emails to parents with maps of the festival, which show stations for petting zoos, hay mazes and a calf station. Investigators are calling parents on evenings and weekends to conduct the survey and determine a pattern for infected and uninfected children.

County health officials have been working to determine the source of the outbreak. Investigators estimate it will take several more weeks of analysis before a common source is identified. On May 7, Scott Lindquist, an epidemiologist with the state health department, requested additional personnel from the CDC to consult and provide support for the local investigators.

“I’m not calling them because I think it’s a large outbreak and it’s unmanageable,” Lindquist told The Seattle Times on May 7. “I think it would be great; it would helpful.”

As of May 15, 20 people had confirmed cases of Shiga-toxin E. coli (STEC) O157:H7. Nine people have been hospitalized and four people have developed hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a disease that can lead to kidney failure. There have been no deaths. Several other people with similar symptoms are under investigation. All of the subjects under investigation either attended the Milk Makers Fest, helped set up the event or were in close contact with people who attended.

E. coli is most commonly transmitted through animal fecal matter. Symptoms include diarrhea, abdominal cramps and kidney failure. Symptoms typically manifest two to eight days after infection. The best way to avoid infection is frequent hand washing with soap and water.

For daily updates on the progress of the investigation, visidoh.wa.gov/newsroom.

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