May 24, 2024

Milk Makers Fest E. coli outbreak Sickens 32

The Milk Makers Fest E. coli outbreak in Lynden, Washington, is growing in size as state and county health officials confirm more illnesses among more than 1,300 children who attended the educational event hosted recently by the Whatcom County Dairy Women. The investigation so far by the Whatcom County Health Department (WCHD) has confirmed 17 cases, including four individuals who have been hospitalized, the agency said in a news release.

In addition,on Thursday there were 15 probable cases in people who had clinical symptoms and exposure to the event or people who attended it. Those cases are being confirmed through laboratory analysis.

MilkFPBDr. Greg Stern, Whatcom County’s health officer, has been identified as the principal contact in the investigation. He is urging those who attended the event and have developed diarrhea, or who have close contact to a case associated with the outbreak, to contact their health care provider for assessment and testing,. The county also is urging ill participants in the event to stay home from school or work, and practice careful hand washing. Stern and others are worried about person-to-person spread of the outbreak, as can happen via release of the bacteria in stools of ill children.

This was a school event that took place at the Northwest Fairgrounds in Lynden April 21-23. The children came from schools throughout Whatcom County.

Bellingham Public Schools and other schools involved in the outbreak forwarded a letter from the county health department to families saying first-graders from Parkview, Birchwood, Sunnyland and Cordata elementary schools were all in attendance at the event.  The letter said ill students and their parents are being interview “to identify whether there was a common food or water source or activity, such as the petting zoo or other livestock contact.”

In a Facebook posting earlier this week, Whatcom County Dairy Women explained that children and their chaperones had opportunities to pet a variety of farm animals, including small horses, sheep, rabbits, chickens and a calf. The Facebook post said the children were offered commercial pasteurized chocolate milk.

It’s not clear from county officials yet if any of the children stricken by E. coli O157:H7 in this outbreak have suffered from a well-known complication known as HUS E. coli, or Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome. Young children are most susceptible to this potentially fatal disease, which almost always begins with kidney failure. HUS can cause health problems over a person’s lifetime, even if they recover from initial symptoms. Those initial effects can include stroke, heart damage, neurological damage, paralysis or seizures.

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