Health department investigates E.coli cases
The Davidson County Health Department urges citizens to take sanitary precautions to avoid exposure to E. coli.
Jen Hames, health education supervisor with the health department, said Dec. 30 two students at Tyro Middle School were hospitalized with illnesses likely caused by E. coli infection. Health officials confirmed that a case of E. coli infection has been identified in a third child in the western part of Davidson County, but no connection between the three has been made.
“Right now, we have not been able to identify a link between the three cases,” Hames said. “We’re still investigating that. We’ve got staff who are interviewing family members to figure where they ate, what they ate, what animals they’ve been around, do they know the others, trying to find a link.”
An investigation of E. coli resembles techniques used by crime scene investigators.
In the Cleveland County Fair outbreak in September 2012, samples taken from the fairground sites were a genetic match to samples taken from the infected patients. This told CDC officials that the site was the source of the infection. Additionally, E. coli bacteria were recovered from the soil as many as five months later.
E. coli are naturally occurring bacteria found in the intestines of both people and animals. While most E. coli bacteria are harmless, Hames said some contain Shiga Toxin, which can make people sick. Symptoms include severe abdominal cramping, acute diarrhea, vomiting, low-grade fever and hemolytic uremic syndrome, a type of kidney failure that can result from complications from E. coli. The two Tyro Middle School students are being treated for hemolytic uremic syndrome, but lab results still are pending.
The syndrome can lead to kidney failure and other complications that can be fatal.
Test results confirmed E. coli infection in the third child. Health Department officials are not providing any additional information about the third child.
“Bloody diarrhea is the red flag for us,” said Hames. “We’re encouraging anyone with that symptom to call the health department and let us investigate to see what’s going on and also make sure they seek medical attention as well.”
Dr. Andrea Bennett of Archdale Pediatrics, which also practices in Thomasville, agrees that the key symptom to warrant testing is bloody diarrhea.
"You would be concerned about a child who is very sick with lots of vomiting and diarrhea," said Bennett. "The main thing is bloody diarrhea."
The E. coli test involves a stool culture, she said.
E. coli can be transmitted in a variety of ways — exposure to animals and eating meat that is not cooked thoroughly.
Hames reinforced a simple precaution — wash your hands properly, thoroughly and frequently, especially after using the bathroom, changing diapers or being around people who are sick. E. coli infection can be severe for very young people and the elderly.
“The fear is more people getting sick,” Hames said.
According to a state report about the Clevland County Fair outbreak, four children were initially diagnosed on Oct. 8, 2012. Five days later, 13 cases had been identified in three counties. In total, there were 106 cases, including the death of a 2-year-old.
“For most people, they don’t have severe cases but there are situations where it is more severe like with these two students who had to be hospitalized with complications. That’s our biggest fear is trying to keep others from getting sick and trying to contain the spread so it doesn’t keep spreading throughout the county.”
Even though all three cases are reported from western Davidson County, officials want anyone in the area experiencing these symptoms to contact the health department.
E. coli infection is not the only stomach bug going around.
Counties across the state are seeing an increase in the Norovirus, a very contagious virus which has symptoms similar to E. coli infection. Hames said sick people should stay at home and not go to work or school.
“It is very easy to spread Norovirus from one person to another,” Hames said. “It’s another one that goes back to hand washing. Hand washing has become a lost art. We’re taught it back in kindergarten but by the time we get to be adults we’re in such a hurry we just throw our hands under the water, throw a little bit soap on them and off we go.
“Your hands need to be washed properly and thoroughly for the 15 or 20 seconds it takes to make sure everything is scrubbed really well. Pretty much any type of illness is more of issue for the very young and the elderly because of their immune system.”
Anyone experiencing E. coli infection symptoms, primarily bloody diarrhea, should call the Davidson County Health Department at 242-2300. Early medical attention can help minimize the severity.
Staff Writer Eliot Duke can be reached at 888-3578, or email@example.com. Debbie Hightower of the Archdale-Trinity News contributed to the writing of this story.