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Rural school district begins year with unexplained E. coli cases

The information is sketchy, but the Columbia-Boone County Department of Public Health and Human Services is confirming four cases of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli O157:H7 in the Missouri county.

According to Sturgeon R-V School District Superintendent Shawn Schultz, three of those cases involve school children, one of whom was a first-grader who was infected before the school year got underway. Schultz said the other two are a kindergartener and another first-grader.

ecoli026_406x250Schultz says officials do not believe the schools are the source of the E. coli contamination. However, the district has sent three letters to warn parents about the outbreak. It is also bleaching surfaces where a bacterium might be expected to take hold. Food service personnel routinely used a diluted bleach to prevent contamination.

The superintendent said health officials have ruled out any need to test school students.

County health officials are conducting interviews and performing laboratory work to help determine the source of the contamination. They are also urging anyone with E. coli-like symptoms — diarrhea and abdominal cramps — to seek medical attention.

Missouri is known for providing scant information about outbreaks within the state’s borders because its state code protects not only medical privacy but the names of facilities associated with the source of infections.

Boone County health officials are responsible for the investigation, which is centered on Sturgeon, a town of about 1,000 located 22 miles north of Columbia, MO. The department played a key role in the 2011 investigation of an in-state E. coli outbreak that resulted in at least 36 illnesses, mostly in the Columbia and St. Louis areas.

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