The children are between the ages of five and 14, said Dr. Justin Denny with the Clark County Health Dept. Three of the children remain hospitalized; two are in intensive care and one is improving, according to health officials.
Health officials said the six children all drank unpasteurized, or raw, milk consumed from the Dee Creek Dairy in Woodland, Wash., which is the source of the infections. They urged anyone else who has consumed the milk in the last 10 days to seek immediate medical care due to possible E. coli exposure.
The two families, who purchased Dee Creek Dairy seven years ago and sought to turn it into an "ecologically sound" farm, could not be reached for comment. The Health Dept. said it has been with working with the Washington State departments of Health and Agriculture to ensure the dairy stops providing unpasteurized milk or milk products. Julie Grimm, of the Clark County Health Dept., said she's not certain the dairy has stopped selling those products at this point.
Clark County officials also have requested a list of the dairy's customers dating back several weeks to investigate additional cases.
This particular strain of E. coli identified produces a powerful toxin that can cause severe illness. Although infections from the confirmed strain can be very mild, they can also be fatal, Denny said.
The strain often causes bloody diarrhea, vomiting or severe stomach cramps, he said, and the illness typically lasts two to 10 days.
The Clark County E. coli outbreak is the third in Washington state over the past several years linked to raw milk, state officials said.
Janet Anderberg, public health adviser with the state Department of Health, said there was an E. coli outbreak last year involving three people in Whatcom County tied to raw milk. In 2003, three people in Yakima County and eight in Skagit County became ill from tainted milk.
“No one has died as a result of a raw milk outbreak, but we’ve had some really sick people,” Anderberg said.
In Washington state, raw milk sales are legal if the farm is licensed through the state, which requires monthly testing of the milk and inspection of the farm and milk bottling room.
Also, each bottle must contain a warning label stating “WARNING: This product has not been pasteurized and may contain harmful bacteria,” in addition to a few other cautionary phrases.
Six dairies in the state are licensed to sell Grade A raw milk, including Dee Creek.
(The Associated Press contributed background to this report.)