Infected farm animals followed by person-to-person contamination were the likely cause of an E coli O157:H7 outbreak that killed two children and sickened ten other people in a remote community on the Utah-Arizona border.
Public health officials say the outbreak was likely caused by animal manure containing E. coli O157:H7 bacteria being spread by humans.
The investigation by the Southwest Utah Public Health Department, Mohave County Department of Public Health, Utah Department of Public Health, Arizona Department of Health Services and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has eliminated ground beef, raw milk and public water as the source of the E. coli bacteria.
The outbreak was first reported on July 1. The two children died in June.
“Several livestock tested positive for the E. coli strain involved in this outbreak,” said the weekend update from the Southwest Utah Public Health Department. “Their owners have been contacted and given guidance to prevent further spread.”
No additional cases have been linked to the outbreak since July 9. Public health agencies are continuing to monitor for disease activity in the Hildale, UT/Colorado City, AZ, area. However, they say the investigative phase of their activity is drawing to a close.
“We appreciate the cooperation of the people of Hildale, Colorado City and Centennial Park with the investigation and their efforts to protect against further outbreaks,” the Southwest Utah Public Health Department said in a statement released during the weekend on Facebook.
The remote border communities poised a challenge for investigators who turned to social media to help communicate with residents. One step investigators took was to put a survey online to help collect data for the investigation.
Investigators said disease outbreaks like the one experienced in the border community “are unpredictable and can occur in any community.” They also reminded the public that E coli are common bacteria that can be spread to people when microscopic bits of feces enter the mouth through unwashed hands, contaminated soil, water or food.
People in the border communities are being told to keep their hands washed, keep raw food separate from cooked food, wash produce, clean all cooking surfaces and utensils that come in contact with raw meat, cook meats thoroughly including ground beef to an internal temperature of 160 degrees, and use a meat thermometer.
The public health agencies say people should remain separated from sick livestock and consult with a veterinarian.
The E. coli O157:H7 outbreak resulted in the death of a 3-year old boy, and a 6-year old girl. Both died in June, and while not related, both lived in the same multi-family dwelling in Hildale, UT.
The two Arizona communities, Colorado City and Centennial Park, are located in Mohave County, AZ, but are separated from the rest of the county by the Grand Canyon.
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