The Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) is investigating an outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 among people who attended the Louisburg Cider Mill Ciderfest in Louisburg, Kansas. That event was held September 24 to 25 and October 1 to 2, 2016.
So far, seven laboratory-confirmed cases of E. coli illnesses have been confirmed in this outbreak. The Shiga toxin-producing E. coli bacteria (STEC) can cause serious illness and death. The Kansas Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and KDHE performed an on-site assessment at the facility on October 27, 2016. Samples were collected for testing in public health laboratories.
Public health officials are asking that anyone who experienced diarrhea one to ten days after attending either event to call the KDHE Epidemiology Hotline at 1-877-427-7317. Anyone who may have been sickened in this outbreak should see a doctor, since E. coli infections can be life-threatening.
According to news reports, the first tests did not find the pathogenic bacteria in the facility’s production area, in whole apples, or in finished apple cider. In addition to cider, other food vendors provided food for the festival. A pony ride operation was also at the festival, but although other animals were on the farm, there was no official petting zoo.
The Cider Mill produces apple cider and sparkling cider, along with fruit butter, syrup, preserves, and snacks. The facility also has a corn maze and a pumpkin patch.
E. coli O157:H7 outbreaks in the past have been linked to unpasteurized apple cider, to undercooked beef, unpasteurized milk, and petting zoos. The bacteria lives in the intestines of ruminant animals and can get into water used for irrigation and products such as beef and raw milk. Apples and other produce can be contaminated with this bacteria in several ways, including irrigation during the growing season, or during harvest, transportation, or processing.
The symptoms of an E. coli infection include diarrhea that may be watery and/or bloody, a mild fever, severe abdominal cramps, nausea, and vomiting. Symptoms usually start one to ten days after exposure to the bacteria.
Most people get better on their own, but some become so ill they must be hospitalized. There is no information on whether any of those sickened in this outbreak have been hospitalized.
An E. coli infection, if improperly treated or if the patient is very young, can progress to hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a potentially deadly complication. This illness attacks the kidneys and can cause kidney failure, seizures, and strokes. The symptoms of HUS include little or no urine output, pale skin, lethargy, easy bruising, a skin rash, and bleeding from the nose or mouth. Anyone suffering these symptoms must be taken to a doctor immediately.