Date: November 2, 1004
Contact: Bill Furney
RALEIGH – State Health Officials today asked North Carolina’s residents to be vigilant in following prevention measures and to be alert to possible symptoms associated with Escherichia coli (E. coli) infection – a bacteria that can cause diarrhea, vomiting, and stomach cramps. Public health officials are investigating an outbreak of E. coli that has been confirmed in 18 people and is suspected to have infected nine others in the state.
Cases have been confirmed in the following counties (numbers of cases appear in parentheses after the county): Wake (5 cases), Mecklenburg (4), Union (2), Wilson (1), Lee (1), Cleveland (1), Chatham (1), Durham (1), Forsyth (1), and Nash (1).
“Although the illness is often associated with eating undercooked ground beef we suspect these cases may have been contracted through direct contact with live animals,” State Epidemiologist Jeffrey Engel said. “Outbreaks are often associated with fairs and petting farms; however we are still exploring every possible source.”
Dr. Engel emphasized that state residents should be on the lookout for symptoms associated with E. coli including diarrhea (loose or watery stools), bloody diarrhea, severe abdominal cramping, nausea and dehydration. Patients may or may not have a low-grade fever. Sickness caused by E. coli may also cause hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a serious complication that occurs in high-risk people such as children and that can cause kidney failure, seizures and in some cases death.
“Anyone with symptoms should contact their doctor or health care provider immediately,” Dr. Engel said. “Young children 5 and under are particularly susceptible, and parents should not delay seeking medical attention if they show symptoms.”
As the state continues to track down the source of the disease, Dr. Engel said that residents can help themselves by practicing prevention measures, especially in schools and child day care facilities.
“The best way to reduce the risk of getting E. coli, especially if a friend or family member is sick with the disease, is careful and diligent hand-washing,” he said. “Teachers and school officials will want to make sure they have plenty of soap and paper towels for their students. If teachers notice a student who appears to have any of the symptoms associated with E. coli, they should contact the parents as soon as possible.”
E. coli is associated with petting zoos because animals carry the bacteria in their intestines. People pick up E. coli by eating contaminated meat or through contact with manure, animals or contaminated surfaces. A number of the cases identified so far have been in contact with farm animals; however public health disease investigators have not yet determined the exact source or sources of the human cases.
State public health officials are working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to alert other states to report E. coli infections.
Citizens with questions or concerns about E coli can call the Department of Health and Human Services Care-Line at 1 800 662 7020 (statewide) or 855-4400 (Wake County).