Fast action and some luck may have contained a rare outbreak of E. coli 026 to a handful of kitchen workers at Idaho’s Camp Lutherhaven on Lake Coeur d’ Alene.
Health officials suspect the infected were exposed to the O26 serotype of E. coli in their common living quarters, not in the camp’s food service.
At this point only five workers who shared kitchen duties and sleeping quarters have tested positive for the Shiga Toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) Type 1 pathogen. Four of the five were food handlers during the start up week of the camp from June 19 to 24.
As soon as they became ill, they were released from duty and allowed to return to their quarters where the five experienced abdominal cramping and diarrhea; one reported bloody diarrhea. Some experienced nausea as well. None experienced complications associated with this type of E.coli.
They have not required hospitalization.
“I’m thankful we caught it when we did,” said Bob Baker, Camp Lutherhaven executive director. “We’ve put everything in place to stop this in its tracks.”
The camp, located in Idaho’s Panhandle, has a staff of 60 to serve about 300 campers.
After a June 27 inspection, the Panhandle Health District reported that the camp kitchen was “far above the standard for cleanliness and excellence in running a kitchen.”
The camp immediately intensified hand-washing procedures for everyone and began spritzing a diluted bleach solution on chairs, counters, kitchen equipment, bathrooms, door and drawer handles.
The source of the infection is under investigation.
E. coli fecal contamination spreads through undercooked beef or unpasteurized milk, fruits and vegetables fertilized or irrigated with contaminated water, poor hygiene (especially hands unwashed after using the bathroom) and contaminated lakes, wells and swimming pools.
The camp has remained open.
According to the Health District, guests, campers and staff who were at the site from the end of May have been notified about the symptoms of E.coli and encouraged to see a doctor immediately if they experience symptoms.
While rare, O26 is second only E. coli O157:H7 in prevalence in northern Idaho.
Symptoms of an E.coli infection appear from two to 10 days after exposure. The last staff worker laboratory-confirmed with STEC fell ill on June 24.
To help prevent E.coli STEC infections:
- Wash your hands thoroughly after using the bathroom or changing diapers and before preparing or eating food. Wash your hands after contact with animals or their environments (at farms, petting zoos, fairs, even your own backyard).
- Cook meats thoroughly. Ground beef and meat that has been needle-tenderized should be cooked to a temperature of at least 160°F/70˚C. It’s best to use a thermometer, as color is not a very reliable indicator of “doneness.”
- Avoid raw milk, unpasteurized dairy products, and unpasteurized juices (such as fresh apple cider).
- Avoid swallowing water when swimming or playing in lakes, ponds, streams, swimming pools, and backyard “kiddie” pools.
- Prevent cross contamination in food preparation areas by thoroughly washing hands, counters, cutting boards, and utensils after they touch raw meat.