Church Event May be Linked to Oklahoma E. coli Outbreak

As of yesterday, officials investigating a massive <"">E. coli outbreak in Oklahoma reported that  at least 248 people had fallen ill.   The illness toll includes 202 adults and 46 children—with 65 hospitalizations and 16 people receiving dialysis.  Of the E. coli victims requiring dialysis, nine were children and one person has died.  Now, investigators believe there may be a link between the E. coli O111 outbreak and a Bethany Free Will Baptist Church event that took place in Broken Arrow on August 16.  The Country Cottage restaurant in Oklahoma catered the event. Country Cottage has been at the epicenter of the largest E. coli O111 outbreak in American history and has long been the key focus in the investigation.

A team of U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) epidemiologists visited Broken Arrow yesterday to interview those who fell ill after eating at the church function.  “It was a good cohort study for them to take a look and compare food items that were served at the catered event with those served at the restaurant” in Locust Grove, said Leslea Bennett-Webb, an Oklahoma State Department of Health spokeswoman.  Preliminary Health Department results revealed that E. coli sickened at least one person at the church’s Ladies Tea, with four probable and 10 suspected cases, she added.

The CDC and Tulsa City-County Health Department epidemiologists interviewed 86 people who ate at the event and took blood for analysis, Bennett-Webb said.  “We already know there will be more,” said Sue Mallonee, chief of the Oklahoma State Department of Health’s injury prevention service.  Mallonee said approximately 220 people were at the event.

Yesterday, health officials also confirmed that laboratory analysis of food samples taken from Country Cottage revealed no disease-causing pathogens.  “We were hopeful that the analysis of food samples taken from Country Cottage would give us some clues to identifying the source of the outbreak,” Bennett-Webb said.  Apparently, much of the food has been disposed, she added.  “We will continue our interview process with those who ate at the Country Cottage in an effort to try to link any association between particular food choices with illness,” she said.  Only three or four of those sickened had secondary cases of infection, Bennett-Webb also confirmed.  Those people did not eat Country Cottage food.

Also, three residents from other states were hospitalized with E. coli O111—two in Arkansas and one in Kansas—and one Oklahoma resident was hospitalized in California, Bennett-Webb said.  “In addition, we have one probable case in Texas and one in Tennessee,” she reported.  Investigators interviewed and tested 57 Country Cottage employees and all came back negative for the pathogen; however, several employees reported having been ill, Bennett-Webb said, explaining, “Just because their tests were negative doesn’t mean they weren’t sick. They may have shed the pathogen by the time the tests were taken.”

State Epidemiologist Dr. Kristy Bradley said that most people who reported being sick ate Country Cottage between August 15 and August 17. Thus far, over 1,500 people have been and investigators are hoping to interview more families with young children who ate at the restaurant and did not become ill.

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