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E. Coli O157:H7 Outbreak in Texas Panhandle

A pink headline popped up late Wednesday on the Amarillo Globe-News website with a breaking news box that said: “E coli cases reported.”  

“City of Amarillo has reported seven cases of E. coli contamination but officials haven’t linked the illnesses to a specific food,” said the one-line bulletin.

According to ProNews 7, a local television station serving the Texas cattle town, physicians and area hospitals have told the Amarillo Department of Health that they are treating seven children infected with the dangerous E. Coli O157:H7 pathogen.

E. coli O157:H7 is usually transmitted by food, but Amarillo health officials say they have not connected the illnesses to any specific food yet. Four of the seven children with confirmed cases of O157:H7 infection are being treated in local hospitals.

Amarillo health officials seem to indicate more cases are possible. The health department has urged local doctors to be on the lookout for people with diarrhea, possibly bloody diarrhea, and abdominal cramps lasting 2 to 8 days, usually at least 3-4 days.

They also warned that a complication often associated with O157, hemolytic uremic syndrome, or HUS,  can occur as diarrhea is improving. HUS has been most common in children under 5 years of age, or adults with compromised immune systems.

While the source of Amarillo’s E. coli contamination is currently unknown, health officials say it is important that people wash their hands thoroughly, cook meat thoroughly, avoid cross-contamination, and avoid drinking raw milk or swallowing water from ponds, lakes or pools.

There have been few recent E. coli recalls for beef, but none impacting the Amarillo area.   Local health officials are looking at travel, exposure to animals, and human contacts that might be common to all the cases.

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