On May 26, 2012, a six year old boy in Massachusetts died from an E. coli infection, according to the Massachusetts Department of Health and the Worcester Department of Public Health. A press release by the City of Worcester, obtained by Food Poisoning Bulletin, confirms that he died from complications of hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS).
Anne Roach, spokesperson for the Massachusetts Department of Health, told Food Poisoning Bulletin that that agency has “confirmed the presence of E. coli 0157 in its investigation of the recent death of a child in Worcester County. The epidemiologic investigation remains ongoing and no further details are available.”
The little boy became sick the week of May 20, 2012 and, as his symptoms worsened, his parents took him to the doctor. He was hospitalized, but his condition continued to deteriorate.
Derek S. Brindisi, Director of Public Health for Worcester, said, “We were deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Owen Carrignan and offer our deepest sympathy to Owen’s family. The source of exposure has not yet been determined at this time. Officials are treating this as an isolated case, consistent with a food borne illness.”
E. coli 0157 infection is the primary cause of hemolytic uremic syndrome, a condition where red blood cells are destroyed by Shiga toxins produced by the bacteria. The incubation period of this bacterium, which is the time between exposure and the development of symptoms, can range from 1 day up to 4 days.
HUS is the leading cause of kidney failure in pediatric patients. Unfortunately, there is no treatment for E. coli 0157 infections. Studies have found that treating the patient with antibiotics can make them more susceptible to HUS.
The bacteria is found in ground beef, raw milk, and can be easily spread through cross-contamination. The bacteria lives in the intestinal systems of animals and gets into meat when the animal is killed, and gets into raw milk when the cow is milked.
It only takes 100 E. coli 0157 bacteria to make a healthy person sick. One bacterium is about 0.002 centimeters long, so a small amount of food can be easily contaminated with that amount. Children are more susceptible to complications from this type of infection because their immune systems are still developing.
It is impossible to completely prevent cross-contamination from bacteria, no matter how well a person follows food safety and hygiene rules, which is why foods containing this specific dangerous bacterium are considered adulterated and illegal to sell in the United States.