The Southwest Utah Public Health Department did not officially determine the source of a E. coli outbreak during the long Independence Day weekend.

However, it probably won’t be much longer before a source is named for the outbreak that is centered in the communities of Hildale, UT, and Colorado City, AZ.

Six people have been infected in the Utah/Arizona border communities and two, both children, have died. The dead are a 3-year-old boy, who died three days after being taken to a Las Vegas hospital, and Gabriella Fullerton, age 6. Linda Fullerton, Gabrielia’s mother, babysat for the 3-year-old boy while he was experiencing stomach pains and diarrhea. The boy was Fullerton’s neighbor.

In a statement posted on Facebook late on July 3, the Southwest Utah Public Health Department said the outbreak “appears to be confined to a limited area of Hildale and the risk to the larger community is not considered to be significant at this time.”

“E. coli is a bacteria known to cause diarrheal illness,” the department’s health officer, David Blodgett said. “Certain types of E. coli are more concerning than others. Some of the cases in this outbreak have been identified as the O157:H7 strain, characterized by bloody diarrhea and serious complications. Our thoughts and sympathies are with the families who have been affected.”

The disease-causing types of E. coli are usually spread to humans by tiny amounts of human or animal feces that gets in victims’ mouths, according to the health department. The transmission can occur by unwashed hands, contaminated water or food, and exposure to animals.

People with E. coli symptoms — including stomach cramps, diarrhea that is often bloody, vomiting, and fever — should immediately contact their healthcare provider. Symptoms usually occur in one to 10 days after exposure, and most healthy adults recover after five to seven days.

Linda Fullerton, told the Salt Lake Tribune newspaper that the Dixie Regional Medical Center in St. George, UT, declined to test her 6-year-old daughter Gabriella for E. coli when she first took her to the facility, which is about one hour from Hildale. Linda and her boyfriend, his three children and Gabriella lived in an apartment in a building that was once a large house, common in the polygamist town. It has been divided into apartments and rooms for rent to non-polygamist residents like Fullerton.

She said some residents had thrown dirty diapers into the yard, which were torn and dragged about by dogs. Others tried to clean it all up, and Fullerton says all six sickened in the outbreak are residents in the building. Fullerton was diagnosed with E. coli while caring for Gabriella before she died at Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City.

Hildale is the headquarters of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, which broke off from the main Mormon church in 1913 and continues the practice of polygamy. The original Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints discontinued plural marriages in 1890.

The U.S. Department of Justice has cracked down on some of the practices in Hildale and Colorado City, including police harassment and intimidation of people who are not members of the fundamentalist church and the denial of such services as water, electricity and sanitary sewers to non-members.

In April this year a jury found the two cities guilty following a trial in federal court in Arizona. The Justice Department complaint cited violations of the First, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution. The jury awarded $2.2 million in damages, but during deliberations the parties agreed on a $1.6 million settlement, according to the judgment and decree granting injunctive relief.

Federal authorities have taken more interest in the church-dominated communities since fundamentalist Warren Jeffs, the so-called prophet leader of the congregation, was imprisoned for life plus 20 years after being convicted on two felony counts of child sexual assault in 2011.


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