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Denver E. Coli Outbreak Linked to National Western Stock Show

Feb 16, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP The number of cases in a Denver E. coli outbreak  linked to a National Western Stock Show in January has risen to 27, according to Denver Public Health. Seven additional cases were found just last week, Dee Martinez, the director of marketing and public relations at Denver Health, told the Denver Post

Test results isolating the outbreak’s source have not been released; however, Dr. Chris Urbina, director of Denver Public Health and the investigator’s lead, said that the so-called “working hypothesis” is that the E. coli infection is likely linked to the Stock Show given that 16 children who later fell ill attended the event, reported the Denver Post.  Dr. Urbina reported test results were expected this week; Martinez said the investigation is ongoing.

E. coli are a group of bacteria found in animal intestines and feces.  While some 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 is generally found to be the culprit in E. coli-related illness outbreaks.

E. coli may cause fatal blood poisoning, cystitis, deadly septicemia, and death.  Symptoms of E. coli infection include stomach cramps and watery diarrhea that may turn bloody within one to three days.  E. coli generally taints meat through improper butchering and processing practices and, once released in the body, produces the Shiga-producing toxins that have been linked to kidney damage in young children, and can also lead to kidney failure and death.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that the principal cause of acute renal failure among children in the United States is E. coli O157:H7 infections; among patients with HUS (Hemolytic-uremic syndrome), about five percent will die.  Also, most cases of diarrhea-associated HUS are caused by shiga-producting E. coli (STEC), of which strain O157:H7 is most closely linked with HUS worldwide; at least 80 percent of childhood HUS is attributable to infection with STEC, primarily E. coli O157:H7.

E. coli is routinely found on cattle farms and in the intestines of healthy livestock with outbreaks occuring when meat becomes tainted during slaughter and organisms contaminate the grounding process.  Tainted meat is released and consumed by the public.  In recent years the transmission route for E. coli O157:H7 is shifting and not always caused by meat consumption with outbreaks occurring more and more with direct and indirect animal contact—zoonotic contact—such as at petting zoos, said the CDC.  According to CDC estimates, there are over 70,000 cases of infection and 61 deaths occurring in the U.S. annually with most illness linked to undercooked or contaminated meat.

According to the Examiner and the Associated Press, all but one case has occurred in children; health officials expect to see more cases since a wide variety of schools and day care centers sponsored trips to the stock show, which took place from January 10 through the 25.  Pat Grant, National Western president and CEO, said the stock show takes precautions to prevent the spread of E. coli, such as posting signs and maintaining hand-washing stations around petting areas.


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