Here are some steps for boiling contaminated water to keep you and your family safe from dangerous bacteria.
The Southwest Utah Public Health Department announced Friday that its investigation into a fatal E. coli outbreak in Hildale is drawing to an end with a finding that the bacteria likely spread from animals to humans and then through human-to-human contact.
“The last case was July 9,” David Heaton, spokesman for the SWUPHD, said Friday afternoon. “Some people are still recovering. … (But) we think the outbreak is over.”
E. coli normally live in the intestines of people and animals but there are variant strains and some types can cause infections and other health symptoms. Transmission usually occurs amid unhygienic practices in which fecal matter may enter the body through the mouth, which is why restaurants in particular encourage employees to wash their hands before working with food preparation.
Heaton said the Hildale outbreak first reported July 1 after the deaths of two children likely originated with transmission from livestock – something that might be commonly expected in a farming area, he said.
“Most types of E. coli are harmless. They may cause sickness,” Heaton said. “But this type can be more dangerous.”
While E. coli generally are not fatal, children younger than 5 “are extra sensitive,” Heaton said, adding that children in that age range constituted the majority of the approximately one dozen individuals reportedly afflicted during the health scare.
Family members reported one of the deceased children was a 6-year-old girl and the other was a younger boy.
The E. coli infection led to a condition called hemolytic-uremic syndrome, or HUS, which most commonly occurs in children hit by a foodborne illness and has a relatively low mortality rate. The low percentage of cases resulting in fatalities or lifelong dialysis usually involve a genetic factor that results in a breakdown of red blood cells and organ damage, particularly to the kidneys, as the body attempts to fight the infection.
The Health Department’s report states several livestock tested positive for the suspect E. coli strain and their owners were “contacted and given guidance to prevent further spread.”
While the current case likely began with animal manure, undercooked hamburger and unpasteurized dairy products carry a high risk of serving as an E. coli transmission source.
Health Department testing of the local water supply, available dairy products, ground beef and farm produce failed to find further evidence of the suspect bacteria. Health officials plan to continue monitoring disease activity in the community during the near future for any resurgence, however.
“Hundreds of samples were tested and many people were interviewed,” the report states. “We appreciate the cooperation of the people of Hildale, Colorado City, and Centennial Park with the investigation and their efforts to protect against future outbreaks.”
The report also notes that disease outbreaks are unpredictable and can occur in any community. Other Washington County locations, including Hurricane and St. George, have had non-fatal E. coli incidents stemming from public food preparation practices.
Prevention tips include:
- Washing hands with warm, soapy water after potential contact with feces and before eating or touching anything that may enter an infant’s mouth, especially raw produce.
- Keeping sick animals separate from people and deciding whether to consult a veterinarian.
- Keeping raw food separate from cooked food, and cleaning any surfaces that have touched raw meat.
- Cooking meats thoroughly, especially ground beef.
- Avoiding unpasteurized dairy products and juices.
- Avoiding swallowing water while swimming.
The department encourages potential patients to seek medical care if they have diarrhea that lasts more than three days or is accompanied by fever, bleeding or severe vomiting. If symptoms after a diarrheal illness include significant decreased frequency of urination, fatigue, pale skin, unexplained small bruises or unusual bleeding from the mouth or nose, seek emergency care.
Follow reporter Kevin Jenkins on Twitter, @SpectrumJenkins. Contact him at 435-674-6253.
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