Three daycare centers in Ellensburg, Washington have been closed by the Kittitas County Health Department due to an outbreak of E. coli in attending children. There are eight confirmed and six suspected cases of E. coli, with over 70 children awaiting test results.
The three temporarily closed daycare facilities include: Creative Kids Learning Center, Little Tot Town and Foursquare Church Daycare and Preschool.
Kittitas Health Officer Dr. Mark Larson explained the closures, “We want to stress that E. coli does not come from child care facilities, and the temporary closure of these facilities does not mean that they have unsafe practices.” The Health Department predicts that the centers will reopen on July 9, but the centers will require a negative E. coli test result from each child and employee before they are allowed to return to the facility. Free testing kits can be picked up during regular business hours at the Kittitas County Health Department.
“We need to keep these sick children separated from one another so we can break this cycle of person-to-person transmission,” explained Larson.
Though E. coli is often thought of as a foodborne illness, people can also be infected through person-to-person contact. There have been over ten daycare E. coli outbreaks in the United States since 2006, all of which have involved person-to-person transmission of the disease. This type of infection takes place when infected people do not wash their hands after using a toilet and can occur if daycare employees fail to wash their hands after changing the diaper of an infected child. People with E. coli normally release the harmful toxins in their fecal matter for up to three weeks after their initial infection.
Proper hand washing can greatly reduce the risk of person-to-person infection. Children, the elderly, and other people with compromised immune systems are at the greatest risk for secondary transmission of E. coli. Over 26,000 individuals in the United States contract E. coli each year, and nearly every major outbreak includes secondary victims. Vigorous, frequent hand washing can prevent the prevalence of secondary transmission.