Three children in Cave City, Arkansas have been stricken with serious E. coli infections. A two year old child has died. A child in kindergarten remains seriously ill in the hospital. Another is reported to be a teenager. All three children hail from Sharp County, Arkansas. The source of this E. coli outbreak has not yet been determined.
Tammy Curtis of the Spring River Chronicle first reported the story. The Spring River Chronicle reports that the source of this E. coli outbreak remains a mystery. It is also not yet known if the local health agencies have commenced any investigation into the potential source of the outbreak.
What Caused This E. Coli Outbreak?
Right now, we do not know. But we have some ideas.
E. coli infections typically come from eating food that has been contaminated with E. coli bacteria. Undercooked meat, especially hamburger, is one of the major sources of E. coli infections. Raw milk and raw milk produce, like soft cheeses, are also concerning vehicles of this illness. Thorough cooking of food and drinking pasteurized milk are recommended methods to reduce the likelihood of E. coli infection.
Fruits and vegetables can also be E. coli vectors, unless they are thoroughly washed.
Petting zoos, beaches, and swimming pools have also been the source of E. coli infections. In fact, in 2015, Arkansas Department of Health closed several beaches in Arkansas due to E. coli contamination. These included:
- Swim Beach in Jacksonport
- Devil's Fork at Greers Ferry Lake
- Blanchard Springs in Stone County
- Spring River Beach in Sharp County
- Kia Kima in Sharp County
- Mirmichee in Sharp County
- Current River in Randolph County
E. coli is easily spread through secondary transmission as well. This means that someone who may not have washed their hands may have contaminated food or a surface with E. coli. This is why hand washing is another good practice to help prevent E. coli infection.
E. coli Symptoms
The first thought in any parent’s mind during an E. coli outbreak is, how can I tell if my child has E. coli?
Parents should watch for these E. coli symptoms: watery diarrhea; bloody diarrhea; stomach cramping, tenderness, or pain; nausea; vomiting; or low grade fever.
With the source of this outbreak still unknown, more people may become ill. If your child has diarrhea that is “persistent, severe or bloody,” the Mayo Clinic recommends that you call your doctor right away. In instances such as these, emergency care may be the best course of action.
Who Is Most Vulnerable to E. coli?
In most cases, E. coli food poisoning is self-limiting. But in some cases, E. coli infections can lead to potentially deadly diseases, such as hemolytic uremic syndrome (“HUS”). HUS is a type of kidney failure.
E. coli infections can harm anyone, regardless of health or age. Children, the elderly, and those with compromised immune systems are especially at risk for developing acute kidney failure (HUS).
What is HUS?
HUS, or hemolytic uremic syndrome, is a type of acute kidney failure. Certain types of E. coli, such as E. coli O157:H7, produce Shiga toxins. When Shiga toxins get into the bloodstream, they kill red blood cells. Dead red blood cells build up in the kidneys. If enough dead red blood cells accumulate in the kidneys, the kidney’s filters (called glomeruli) become clogged. Eventually, the kidneys are unable to filter and eliminate wastes.
HUS generally leads to hospitalization. Medical intervention in the form of intravenous fluids and supplemental nutrients (delivered via intravenous or tube feeding) are typically required. Blood transfusions are commonly needed. Approximately fifty percent of HUS patients require short-term dialysis.
HUS carries with it its own set of additional symptoms. These can include: pale, unhealthy-looking skin, bruising of an unknown cause, bleeding from the mouth and/or nose, high blood pressure, swelling of the body, decreased urination, extreme fatigue, confusion, and irritability, to name a few.
What Are Other Concerning Complications of E. coli Infections?
HUS is not the only concern when it comes to E. coli infections. E. coli infections can also cause long-term complications to the central nervous system. In these cases, a infected person may suffer from a seizure or fall into a coma. Some of those who have developed these more severe cases have also suffered from paralysis on one side of the body, edema of the brain, intellectual disabilities, temporary and/or permeant blindness, and mobility issues, to name a few.
Reporting Foodborne Illnesses
The CDC estimates that most foodborne illnesses go unreported. Local, state, and federal public health agencies all urge people to report serious foodborne illnesses. One of the public health agencies most important jobs is to help stop food poisoning outbreaks in their tracks. But it all starts with a call to the public health agency, either by a doctor, a hospital, or the family of someone who has gotten sick with food poisoning. Once the public health authorities have been alerted that people are getting sick, the authorities can interview those who are ill (or their families). The public health investigators will look for commonalities. What foods did people eat? Which foods multiple different people eat? Which foods tie all of the sick people together? Through witness interviews and reconstructing what people ate, the public health authorities can identify the food product that is the source of the outbreak.
Once the public health authorities have identified the outbreak’s source, they can warn people to stop eating the contaminated food product. Putting the public on alert helps stop outbreaks by preventing additional people from getting sick.
But it all starts with a phone call. A phone call to your local, state, or federal public health authorities. A fifty state list of public health departments, along with their telephone numbers and e-mail addresses. The Arkansas Department of Health can be reached at 501.661.2000. They are located at 4815 West Markham Street, Little Rock, Arkansas. Here is their website.
Robins Cloud LLP is a national law firm dedicated to helping families who have been harmed by large corporations. We help families who have been harmed by defective products and foodborne illnesses.
Robins Cloud’s lawyers currently represent the families of children stricken with E. coli food poisoning in states across the nation.