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E. coli found in farm's raw milk

Infected - Two children who became ill after drinking raw milk from Dee Creek Farm improve

VANCOUVER -- Unpasteurized milk taken from a Woodland farm and from the home of a farm patron have tested positive for E. coli, Clark County's health officer said Monday.

Meanwhile, two children who became ill with E. coli after drinking unpasteurized milk from Dee Creek Farm are improving after at least a week in critical condition.

"That's very good news," said Dr. Justin Denny, Clark County's public health officer.

One child has been moved out of a Portland hospital's intensive care unit; the other remains in intensive care but has been upgraded to serious condition, Denny said.

They are among 16 people, most younger than 14, who last week became sick with E. coli O157:H7, a potentially deadly pathogen found in cow colons.

Health officials earlier reported 17 cases of E. coli, but the total was lowered Monday when they found a Cowlitz County case mistakenly had been counted twice.

State and county health officials say the common link among the sick -- residents of Clark and Cowlitz counties in Washington and Clatsop County in Oregon -- was consumption of raw milk or milk products from Dee Creek Farm.

Tests on milk taken last week from the Cowlitz County farm and from milk obtained by a person who consumes the farm's products were positive for E. coli, though further testing is needed to determine whether it is the same strain that sickened the people, Denny said.

Results from tests on the cows and other sites at the farm are pending, he said.

Distribution of raw milk products at Dee Creek Farm was halted last week while Washington State Department of Agriculture and county health officials investigate the outbreak.

Culture tests at the Washington State Public Health Laboratory have confirmed that five people were infected with E. coli O157:H7, a strain that can cause kidney damage or death. Blood samples were taken from the others and sent to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for tests that look for antibodies to the pathogen, Denny said. Those results could take weeks.

Washington allows the direct sale of unpasteurized milk by six farms that have obtained production and bottling licenses. Dee Creek Farm is not licensed.

Health experts Monday finished contacting 45 families and individuals who received Dee Creek Farm products and are working to determine whether there are more suspected E. coli cases among them.

Public health workers began contacting them after Michael and Anita Puckett, the farm owners, turned over names late Thursday in compliance with a Cowlitz County judge's order.

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