Ohio’s Wood County is experiencing an uptick in E. coli cases.

The Wood County Health Department reports three years of E. coli cases have occurred just during the past week.

Health Commissioner Ben Robison told the Wood County Board of Health on Thursday that 16 known cases of E. coli have been identified in the last week. In the last five and a half years the county has logged 27 E. coli cases.

The health commissioner said: “We are in the very front stages of an investigation.”

The Ohio Department of Health is testing to see if there is a link between the cases, which affected Wood County residents between the ages of 13 and 60. Test results are due back Tuesday.

The 15 known cases are likely just the beginning, according to Robison. “This number we expect will grow,” he said.

The health department is asking that anyone in the county who believes they are or have recently experienced possible E coli symptoms go to https://woodcountyhealth.org/health-promotion-and-preparedness/infectious-disease/ and click on the “take this survey” link in blue.

Of the 16 cases reported so far, at least five people were hospitalized, ranging in age from 21 to 60. 

Wood County Health is partnering with other agencies to try and solve the puzzle of the origin of E. coli. Those partners include the Ohio Department of Health and other county health departments. It could be expanded to the Ohio Department of Agriculture if a link is identified to food products in the early stages of growing or processing.

Robison explained that people sometimes believe the last place or food item they ate is the culprit when it comes to gastrointestinal issues. But the first symptoms of E. coli may not show up until 10 days after they ate the contaminated food, he said.

One health board member reported Thursday that a relative of his became very ill and had to be taken to the hospital after eating at the Wood County Fair. But Robison noted that the fair food establishment may not have been the problem.

Robison is hopeful that the lab results from ODH will provide vital information – such as if the E. coli is all the same strain.

“We’re moving quickly but intentionally,” he said.

Board member Bob Midden asked if there have been any alerts about national or regional contaminated produce or other foods. Robison said the health department will be looking “in every direction” for the culprit.

“We’re not closing any doors,” Robison said.

E. coli are bacteria found in the environment, foods, and intestines of people and animals. E. coli are a large and diverse group of bacteria, according to the CDC.

About E. coli infections

Anyone who has eaten any of the implicated products and developed symptoms of E. coli infection should seek medical attention and tell their doctor about their possible food poisoning. 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 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.

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