State and federal public health officials are working with the University of Arkansas on what appears to be an outbreak of E. Coli infections.

During a news conference this afternoon, a spokesman from the Arkansas Department of Health said four people were hospitalized. Also, about 100 students from the university responded to an email saying they currently have or have recently had symptoms.

The total number of confirmed outbreak patients has not been released.

The spokesman said the outbreak seems limited to the Northeast part of the state. He also said the state department and university officials are working with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to investigate the outbreak.

The spokesman said health officials believe the outbreak started about a week ago.

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

Students and the public are being asked to monitor themselves for symptoms of E. Coli infections and report any illnesses to their doctors or go to emergency rooms if the symptoms are severe.

“This outbreak does not appear to be related to a couple of others on the West Coast being investigated by the CDC,” according to the state spokesman.

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. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), others can develop severe or life-threatening symptoms and complications.

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, tiredness, 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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