Six people in Western Kentucky are hospitalized with a specific strain of E. coli in an outbreak that Public Health investigators have not been able to identify the food source,  but believe it is due to some sort of food distribution.

The Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services Saturday said at least 10 Kentuckians recently tested positive for E. coli O157:H7. No deaths have been blamed on the outbreak.

Among the six hospitalizations, CHFS reports two individuals developed the rare and serious condition called hemolytic uremic syndrome or HUS. Those cases apparently involved adults, although HUS is often associated with children.

“Health care providers have been notified of the outbreak and are advised to be alert for patients experiencing acute diarrheal illness, which could be associated with E. coli,” the CHFS notice says. “This is a particular strain of E. coli that produces a system of toxin (Shiga toxin) that can be dangerous for those infected.”

“E coli O157:H7 sometimes leads to HUS, a serious complication that can cause kidney failure and can occur a week or more after the onset of diarrhea,” CHFS added. “Those most at risk of developing complications from E. coli infection include the very young, the elderly and people with weaken immune systems.”

Kentucky health officials are working with county health departments to determine the source of the infections.

About E. coli infections
Anyone who has developed symptoms of E. coli infection should seek medical attention. 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 is 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 to 10 percent of those diagnosed with E. coli infections develop a potentially life-threatening kidney failure complication, known as a 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.

CHFS said the public could help by:

  • Washing hands frequently for at least 20 seconds with soap and warm water, especially before eating, after going to the bathroom, handling raw meat and eggs, and after handling or petting animals;
  • Thoroughly washing produce before eating;
  • Thoroughly cooking meat;
  • Cleaning and sanitizing food preparation areas;
  • Avoiding swallowing lake or pool water;
  • Drinking only pasteurized milk;
  • Frequently cleaning and sanitizing restrooms, including door knobs and faucets; and
  • Reporting diarrheal illnesses to your physician.

Anyone who believes they have experienced symptoms of illness that could be associated with this E. coli outbreak or who tests positive for E. coli should  consult their doctor  and their local health department.

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