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Investigators Scrambling to Find Source of Utah-Arizona E. coli Outbreak

JUL 17, 2017 | KRISTI ROSA
*Updated on 7/18/2017 at 3:18 PM EST

Investigators are scrambling to identify a potential common source for an outbreak of Escherichia coli (E. coli) along the Utah-Arizona border. The latest update provided by the Southwest Utah Public Health Department (SWUPHD) confirmed that there have been 11 associated cases thus far (5 in Utah and 6 in Arizona), with “the most serious cases” involving children, 2 of which have died.

E. coli is a bacteria known to cause diarrheal illness,” David Blodgett, MD, MPH, SWUPHD Health Officer commented in the official press release. He continued, “Certain types of E. coli are more concerning than others. Some of the cases in this outbreak have been identified as the O157H7 strain, characterized by bloody diarrhea and serious complications. Our thoughts and sympathies are with the families who have been affected.”

Anna Scherzer, MD, Mohave County epidemiologist, reported to the Mohave County Board of Health that 7 of the 11 infected individuals were hospitalized; 4 of the 11 were children that had hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) and 2 of those children have died. Those 2 children lived in the same multi-family complex in Hildale, Utah; however, the children “were not related,” according to Food Safety News. The news source also notes that although the multi-family complex had come under focus earlier on in the investigation, more cases have since occurred in individuals who do not reside in that complex. This new information has led investigators to expand the “geographic focus to include the nearby Arizona communities of Colorado City and Centennial Park.”

Regarding the source of the outbreak, investigators took a closer look at the city water system early on in the investigation; however, test results have not shown the presence of E. coli in the drinking water. Investigators have since issued warnings to the public not to consume raw milk or previously purchased ground beef products, “until further notice.” In email correspondence, a SWUPHD representative told Contagion® that "the investigation continues to focus on contaminated food and animal exposure. Sample testing also continues to help narrow down or exclude possibilities."

When asked about the current efforts that are being made by health officials to pinpoint the source of the outbreak, he wrote: "The investigation effort includes personnel from the two local health departments (Southwest Utah Public Health Departments and Mohave County Department of Health) that have jurisdiction over the two towns, which actually comprise one community straddles the border of Utah and Arizona. The state-level health departments are also assisting, along with staff from the Centers for Disease Control. There is an epidemiology field team on the ground conducting interviews and sampling, an environmental health team, and lab team." He continued, "Coordination conference calls are being held every one to two days. A public information team has been handling media and public information duties, including messaging to the communities involved through social media and local leaders."

Health officials are advising health care practitioners to be mindful of the general associated symptoms of infection when treating patients. As a reminder, symptoms can range from stomach cramps to vomiting and fever and will present anywhere from 1 to 10 days’ post-exposure. Bloody diarrhea, in particular, “is a symptom characteristic of the strain involved in the outbreak.”

Because E. coli can be easily transmitted, the SWUPHD is also stressing the importance of following preventive practices:

• Washing hands with warm, soapy water before and after preparing or consuming food, after changing diapers, after contact with any animals or environments that may have animal feces, and before touching anything that enters an infant’s mouth
• Not allowing raw food to touch cooked food and carefully cleaning all surfaces and/or objects that have touched, or may have touched, any raw meat
• Cooking meats appropriately/thoroughly. For example, ground beef should be cooked to an internal temperature of 160°; a meat thermometer should be used to ensure proper temperatures have been reached
• Avoiding raw milk, dairy products, and juices
• Not swallowing any water when swimming

To stay up-to-date on the latest news regarding the E. coli outbreak on the Utah-Arizona border, be sure to visit the Contagion® Outbreak Monitor.
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