E. coli Cases Increase In Iowa

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

Since late September, 29 cases of E.coli O157:H7 and related strains have been reported to IDPH. This compares to an average of 18.4 cases during the same time period over the last five years. Of the 29 cases, 22 involve children ages 12 years and younger. Several of these children have been admitted to the hospital and a few have experienced significant kidney damage as a result of their E.coli infection.

All E. coli cases are investigated to determine if there are contaminated food items on the market, or if particular risks exist in a community, such as poorly-chlorinated kiddies' pools. Action is taken by public health officials if there is even a suspicion of increased risk.

The recent E.coli cases investigated by IDPH include a small cluster of cases in eastern Iowa. Several things associated with the cases increased the risk of E. coli exposure, such as drinking unpasteurized apple cider, eating fresh, unwashed apples, and eating ground beef. "With the exception of the eastern Iowa cluster, all the other cases have been reported across the state and have no common exposures," said IDPH medical director, Dr. Patricia Quinlisk. "Thus it is important for everyone to be aware of how E.coli exposure can occur, and what each person can do to reduce their risk of becoming ill."

Potential sources of E.coli contamination include drinking raw, unpasteurized juice or milk; contact with farm animals either in a farm setting or petting zoo; consumption of under-cooked ground meats or of foods contaminated by raw meat juices; and consumption of raw, unwashed produce. E.coli can also be transmitted from an ill person to a healthy person, which is why hand washing is very important.

E.coli O157:H7 and related strains are bacteria. The main symptom of E.coli O157:H7 and similar infections is diarrhea, which may be bloody. Stomach cramps and chills may also occur. Fever is rarely reported. Anyone with symptoms of E.coli O157:H7 should consult with his or her health care provider immediately. Approximately 8 percent of cases will develop complications involving the kidneys, especially young children. The infection may also cause a person's blood clotting systems to malfunction.


E.coli infections can be prevented:

* Make sure fresh juice or milk has been pasteurized. Even small samples can make a person sick.

* People with diarrhea should not prepare or touch food meant for others.

* Wash hands with soap and water after using the restroom. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol based hand gel to clean hands.

* When caring for someone with diarrhea, wash your hands after giving any care, and ensure that the ill person's hands are frequently washed, too.

* Cook all ground meats like hamburger thoroughly - to a temperature of 155 F for at least 15-16 seconds, or until juices run clear and no pink is visible.

* Always wash fresh vegetables or fruits thoroughly before eating.