Federal, state and county investigators searching for the source of the E. coli outbreak in Whatcom County, WA, have found at least one environmental sample matching the outbreak strain.
That result came in Monday, May 18, and was from a sample taken at the Northwest Fairgrounds in Lynden, WA, which is where the Milk Makers Fest was held last month. However, exactly where the positive sample was taken is not being revealed.
“I’ve been asked not to talk about any specific location,” said Donn Moyer, media relations manager for the Washington State Department of Health (DOH), adding, “Every place that the event covered is under consideration.”
A team of county and state health officials, along with investigators from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), are interviewing the families of those sickened about where they went at the dairy festival and what they did there, and the concern is that knowledge of where the positive sample was taken “could influence somebody’s memory,” Moyer said.
Quite a few environmental samples were taken at the fairgrounds, although some tests results were inconclusive and have to be redone, he noted.
According to the latest DOH update, there are now 22 confirmed Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) cases in this outbreak, with 10 people who have been hospitalized and four who developed hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), which is a type of kidney failure associated with E. coli infections.
The majority of those sickened are primary school children or older children who helped set up for the Milk Makers Fest held April 21-23 at the Lynden fairgrounds. Among the activities featured at the event was a farm animal petting zoo.
Moyer said the 10 people who had been hospitalized are recovering.
Bev Mayhew, communications and marketing director for PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center in Bellingham, WA, told Food Safety News that nine of the 10 who had been hospitalized there were pediatric patients.
“Four were sent to hospitals in Seattle. We currently have no E. coli patients in the hospital under treatment,” she said.
According to a Wednesday report from a Seattle TV station, three of the E. coli victims are from the same family and include a girl, age 7, who attended the dairy festival in Lynden, and her younger sister and brother, who did not. The boy, who just turned 1, is reportedly receiving daily kidney dialysis treatments at Seattle Children’s Hospital and his condition is improving.
The TV station also reported that there have been two environmental samples matched with the E. coli outbreak strain, and that state health officials plan to announce their findings on a possible source of the outbreak on Friday.
DOH provided the following precautions for those infected with E. coli or those with a family member infected with E. coli:
- Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water immediately after using the restroom or changing a child’s diaper.
- Wash your hands before and after preparing food for yourself and others.
- Stay home from school or work while diarrhea persists; most people can return to work or school when they no longer have diarrhea.
- Special precautions are needed for food handlers, health care workers, and child care providers and attendees. Check with your employer before returning to work, and check with your child’s child care center before resuming child care.
More information from CDC on E. coli O157:H7 is available here.