Twenty Kentuckians have tested positive for an infection caused by a strain of E. coli bacteria, and public health officials say they have not yet identified the source of the outbreak, the state Department for Public Health said.
Investigators said some element of food distribution is the likely cause of the outbreak, which has struck both children and adults, mostly in Central Kentucky.
The health department reports that no deaths have been linked to the outbreak, but six people have been hospitalized.
Health-care providers across the state have been alerted to watch for patients with quick-onset diarrhea, which can be associated with E. coli. The release says this is a particular strain of E. coli that produces a type of toxin, called Shiga toxin, that can be dangerous for those infected.
“Exposure to E. coli bacteria can be debilitating and potentially life-threatening, especially for small children and individuals with weakened immune systems,” said Public Health Commissioner Dr. Jeff Howard. “With this in mind, the Department for Public Health has taken swift action to identify patients, ensure appropriate testing, and follow-up care as we work to determine the source.”
Howard encouraged everyone to be aware of the signs and symptoms of E.coliinfections and to seek care if they exhibit any of them.
Symptoms typically include stomach cramps and diarrhea, including bloody diarrhea. Symptoms usually start two to five days after consuming contaminated food. The state news release notes that the infection can sometimes lead to hemolytic-uremic syndrome, a serious complication that can cause kidney failure a week or more after the onset of diarrhea.
“State health officials are working with staff at local health departments in the counties with suspected or confirmed cases to determine the source of the infections,” says the release.
To prevent E. coli infections:
- Wash hands frequently for at least 20 seconds with soap and warm water, especially before eating,after going to the bathroom, when handling raw meat and eggs, and after handling or petting animals
- Thoroughly wash produce before eating
- Thoroughly cook meat
- Clean and sanitize food preparation areas
- Avoid swallowing lake or pool water
- Drink only pasteurized milk
- Frequently clean and sanitize restrooms, including door knobs and faucet
If you believe you have an E.coli infection, call your health-care provider, write down what you ate in the week before you got sick, report your illness to the health department, and be prepared to answer questions about your illness, the health department advises.