SPRINGFIELD, MO – At least one person was confirmed ill with an E. coli O157:H7 infection in Monett, Missouri, and lab work on five additional tests is pending, according to a report from the Springfield News-Leader. As public health officials investigate this potential outbreak, the nation’s leading food safety advocacy law firm offered the following advice on how to prevent further illness.
“In our efforts to educate the public about food safety, we’ve found that people need answers to questions about how to protect their families,” said William Marler, an “E. coli attorney” and food safety advocate who has represented hundreds of victims of E. coli O157:H7 outbreaks.
“Because the source of this outbreak is not yet clear, we have here provided general information about E. coli infection, the symptoms of infection, and how to prevent becoming ill in an effort to give individuals the ability to make informed decisions to prevent the further spread of illness.”
E. coli O157:H7 infection is contracted through the ingestion of contaminated feces. Recent E. coli outbreaks have been traced to ground beef, which can become contaminated during the slaughtering process, and bagged lettuce, which can become contaminated in fields or during processing. Other outbreaks have been traced to contact with livestock at petting zoos and fairs, contaminated swimming pool water, day care settings, and unpasteurized fruit juices or raw milk.
Symptoms of E. coli O157:H7 infection include nausea, diarrhea, which may become bloody, and painful abdominal cramping. In most infected individuals, E. coli symptoms last about a week and resolve without any long-term problems. Antibiotics do not improve the illness, and some medical researchers believe that medications can increase the risk of complications. About 5-10 percent of individuals goes on to develop hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a complication of E. coli O157:H7 infection that can lead to kidney failure and damage to the central nervous system. HUS is believed to be the most common cause of kidney failure in childhood in the United States.
To help prevent E. coli infection:
· Cook all ground beef thoroughly. Ground beef should be cooked until a thermometer inserted into several parts of the patty, including the thickest part, reads at least 160º F.
· Drink only pasteurized milk, juice, or cider.
· Wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly, especially those that will not be cooked.
· Drink municipal water that has been treated with chlorine or other effective disinfectants, or bottled water that has be sterilized with ozone or reverse osmosis.
· Avoid swallowing lake or pool water while swimming, especially pool water in public swimming facilities.
· Avoid Petting Zoos and other animal exhibits.
· Make sure that persons with diarrhea, especially children, wash their hands carefully with soap after bowel movements to reduce the risk of spreading infection, and that persons wash hands after changing soiled diapers. Anyone with a diarrheal illness should avoid swimming in public pools or lakes, sharing baths with others, and preparing food for others.
Marler’s firm, Marler Clark, represented several children sickened during an E. coli O157:H7 outbreak traced to a Joplin daycare in 2004. The firm sponsors Web sites about E. coli, www.about-ecoli.com, and about hemolytic uremic syndrome, www.about-hus.com.