San Diego Hit With E. coli

The Associated Press (AP) is reporting that officials in California are saying that two San Diego County elementary school children have been sickened by <"">E. coli.  The San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency is reporting that two girls—age seven and nine—have been hospitalized and that both attend Carmel Creek Elementary School, near the city of Del Mar.  According to the AP report, public health officer Wilma Wooten says the school has not been named as the source of the bacteria.

E. coli outbreaks seem to be occurring on a very regular basis and yesterday we reported that eight children, between four and 12 years of age all tested positive for the same Escherichia coli O157:H7 bacteria.  That outbreak is occurring in Denver, Colorado and—as in the San Diego outbreak–officials remain unclear as to the connection and source of the outbreak.  In the Denver case, the children live or have visited the Evergreen area of Denver, but do not attend the same school.  Two children remain hospitalized.  Also, Canada has been plagued with an ever-widening outbreak that has links to a number of restaurants and that has sickened hundreds.

E. coli are a group of bacteria found in animal intestines and feces.  While some E. coli strains are necessary for digestion; some are harmful, deadly, and toxin-producing and part of a group of E. coli called Verocytotoxigenic E. coli, or VTECs, also known as Shiga-producing E. coli.  Of particular concern is the virulent, sometimes deadly E. coli O157:H7 strain that is part of this group and that is generally found to be the culprit in E. coli-related food-borne illness outbreak. E. coli may cause fatal blood poisoning, cystitis, deadly septicemia, and death.  In the US, E. coli is the leading cause of food-borne illness, sickening about 73,000 and killing 61; last year, over 22 million pounds of beef and vegetables were recalled due to E. coli outbreaks.

A diarrheal illness caused by several types of bacteria, E. coli is spread most easily when people eat or drink food or water contaminated with human or animal feces or from infected symptomatic individuals.  Initial symptoms include sudden onset of watery, often bloody, diarrhea; abdominal cramping; and, occasionally, vomiting.  One-third of infected people develop fevers.

E. coli is turning up in produce and water and seems to be sweeping North America in recent months with outbreaks popping up in a variety of states in the U.S. as well as in Canada.   E. coli taints meat through improper butchering and processing practices and, once released in the body, produces a type of toxin that has been associated with kidney damage in young children, and can also lead to kidney failure and death.  Infections generally last between five and 10 days and are usually not treated with antibiotics because antibiotics can increase the risk of more severe symptoms, such as hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), which can result in acute kidney failure.

There is growing concern in the scientific community—not just because of the seeming prevalence of all manner of foodborne illnesses—but because instances of drug resistant E. coli are being reported world-wide and are similar in path to a mutated staph called MRSA, Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus that, when not treated early, is resistant to all but the one antibiotic of last resort.

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