HUS E. coli has infected three children in the Whatcom County, Washington, outbreak linked to a school-sponsored outing to the Milk Makers Festival in Lynden. A new report from the Washington State Department of Health said 15 E. coli cases have been confirmed, more than half of those patients were hospitalized and three have suffered the worst complication possible: HUS kidney failure, also known as hemolytic uremic syndrome. The disease can be fatal in a significant percentage of child cases, but no deaths have been reported in the Milk Makers outbreak.
This week’s Whatcom County E. coli update is the best accounting yet of how serious the outbreak became after the first school children began to fall ill in late April. More than 1,000 first graders from Bellingham and surrounding area schools attended the Fest, which included a petting zoo that many E. coli lawyers suspect was the epicenter of the outbreak. County, state and federal investigators from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will issue a report when their probe is completed after several more weeks.
“All of the ill people attended the Milk Makers Fest between April 21 and 23 at the Northwest Fairgrounds in Lynden; helped with the event between April 20 and 24; or were close contacts of ill people associated with the event. Most of the ill people are children, including older children who helped with the event,” the state health department said in its report. A health advisory will be updated daily at 3:00 PM Pacific Time while the investigation continues.
The pathogen at the center of the outbreak is E. coli O157:H7, an organism that attaches itself to a person’s intestinal lining and emits toxins that attack and fragment red blood cells. Kidney failure, stroke, seizures, heart problems and neurological impairment or paralysis can result. The microscopic E. coli bugs live benignly in the stomachs of cows, sheep, goats, and other ruminant animals that chew cud. They are expelled into the environment via feces and can spread to surfaces touched by children at petting zoos.
Donn Moyer and Kelly Stowe are listed as state health contacts for information about this outbreak. The agency said this week it will henceforth calculate case counts based only on lab-confirmed infection with E. coli O157:H7. Previously, suspect and probable cases were reported to show that as many as 45 people may have been sickened in the outbreak. “Illnesses in several other people are under investigation,” the latest report said.
“Even if a common source is not identified, potential risk factors will be identified, which will provide information that may reduce the risk of an outbreak in the future,” according to the update.