At least seven children are sick with E. Coli infections in a new outbreak involving an unknown source. All of the sick children are younger than 14, with three of them younger than five years old, according to an outbreak announcement by King County, WA, health officials.

“Our investigation is ongoing, and we have not identified any foods, restaurants, or other sources in common among all cases. It is not yet known whether these cases share the same source or not,” officials reported in the announcement.

The children became ill between April 22 and May 1. Six of the seven children have been so sick they had to be admitted to hospitals. One of the sick children is confirmed as having developed a life-threatening kidney complication called hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) and is recovering. A second child is suspected to have HUS.

Six of the patients have preliminary testing indicating infections with E. coli O157 via PCR, and the seventh case has a positive EIA test for STEC, according to the announcement. Further testing to confirm the strain and do genetic fingerprinting — whole genome sequencing or WGS — is underway at the Washington State Public Health Laboratory. The WGS results will help determine whether the patients were infected with the same strain of STEC.

“Public Health is conducting interviews with cases and their parents/guardians to help identify any common exposures. We are also working with the Washington State Department of Health to complete further testing and to help identify possible related cases in other counties,” King County officials reported.

About E. Coli infections
Anyone who has recently developed symptoms of E. coli infection should seek medical attention and tell their doctor about their concern about the bacteria. Specific tests are required to diagnose the infections, which can mimic other illnesses.

The symptoms of E. coli infections vary for each person but often include severe stomach cramps and diarrhea, which are often bloody. Some patients may also have a fever. Most patients recover within five to seven days. Others can develop severe or life-threatening symptoms and complications, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

About 5 percent to 10 percent of those diagnosed with E. coli infections develop a potentially life-threatening kidney failure complication, known as hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). Symptoms of HUS include fever, abdominal pain, feeling very tired, decreased frequency of urination, small unexplained bruises or bleeding, and pallor.

Many people with HUS recover within a few weeks, but some suffer permanent injuries or death. This condition can occur among people of any age but is most common in children younger than five years old because of their immature immune systems, older adults because of deteriorating immune systems, and people with compromised immune systems such as cancer patients.

People who experience HUS symptoms should immediately seek emergency medical care. People with HUS will likely be hospitalized because the condition can cause other serious and ongoing problems such as hypertension, chronic kidney disease, brain damage, and neurologic problems.

Anyone ill with suspected or known STEC should not work in or attend childcare or preschool, or work in food handling or healthcare until cleared by the public health department, according to the outbreak announcement.

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