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Toddler Beats E. coli Infection

Albany -- Hospital discharges girl whose older sister died in outbreak; case count at 1,061 Kaylea Aldrich went home Monday afternoon, almost three weeks after being hospitalized with the same E. coli infection from the Washington County Fair that killed her older sister.

The homecoming came as the number of suspected cases in the state's largest E. coli outbreak climbed to 1,061, and the state's health commissioner, Dr. Antonia C. Novello, made plans to meet with fair organizers as early as this week. "It's an informational meeting,'' said Health Department spokeswoman Kristine Smith.

"She wants to gather as much information as she can.'' Of the latest tally, laboratory testing has confirmed 122 people to be infected with the potentially deadly 0157:H7 strain. All of the new cases continue to be people who had symptoms earlier but delayed seeking treatment.

No new secondary cases have been reported, Smith said. Kaylea, 2, was one of 65 people who were hospitalized in the weeks following the Washington County Fair, which ended Aug. 29. Of those, one adult remained in fair condition Monday night at Albany Medical Center Hospital and six children were still in serious condition. Health officials said the E. coli outbreak was caused when an unchlorinated well at the fairgrounds became contaminated with manure-laden runoff following a heavy rainstorm.

The well was located only 83 feet from a dairy barn and was later used by food vendors to make beverages and prepare food. In the days following the fair, both Kaylea and her 3-year-old sister, Rachel, became ill from the E. coli bacteria, which produces a powerful toxin that can cause severe abdominal cramping, bloody diarrhea and kidney complications. Rachel died on Sept. 4, just five days before her fourth birthday, after the toxin attacked her kidneys, heart and brain. On Sept. 10, Ernest Wester, 79, of Gansevoort also died from complications arising from the infection.

In the weeks since Rachel's death, Capital Region residents have kept a close watch on Kaylea's condition as she struggled against the toxin in Albany Med. Last week, after undergoing dialysis to help her failing kidneys, Kaylea rallied. On Monday, Kaylea finally left the hospital, her parents opting for a quiet homecoming in Clifton Park and issuing only a short statement to reporters. "We are really thankful for all the prayers and gifts and support that everyone has given us -- the staff here at the Medical Center, family and friends, and the public.

We'll never forget it,'' said Wayne and Lori Aldrich. Smith said Novello was delighted at Kaylea's recovery. The commissioner, a board-certified pediatric nephrologist, has been making frequent visits to Albany Med to check on the conditions of all the children. "It's a wonderful development in a very sad story,'' said Smith about Kaylea's hospital discharge. Meanwhile, health officials are now planning to step up their efforts at contacting all the individuals who have reported a suspected case of E. coli to better assess the extent of the outbreak.

Novello has not yet made any decisions on setting up a fund to cover the uninsured medical costs of those sickened. "She has mentioned her concern over people's ability to pay, but she has not yet decided how she wants to handle it,'' Smith said.

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