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E. coli Kills Two Children

Oct 14, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) continues to work to isolate the source of two fatal cases of E. coli poisoning that claimed the lives of two children in as many days.  The deaths occurred in Seward and Chase counties in Kansas and the KDHE says the deaths were not related and were caused by different E. coli serotypes.

Both boys died after being taken to Wesley Medical Center in Wichita.  An 18-month-old died Wednesday; authorities remain unclear as to how he came into contact with the deadly bacteria.  His brother was also exposed, but will recover.  A Chase County four-year-old died Sunday.  "He's the only case in Chase County right now,” said Cheryl Jones with the Chase County Health Department.  “He has an infant sister [that] is well and no one else associated with him has become ill."  Jones says the deceased boy’s father is a rancher and because cow manure is a major E. coli source, the boy might have come into contact with and ingested cow manure or manure-tainted water.

Lois Rayhal, an infection control nurse at Wesley Medical Center said, "It just takes a very small amount of bacteria to cause disease.  Most cases are isolated, where an individual child or adult comes in contact with E. coli through their own cattle, or visiting a farm."  E. coli can be contracted through tainted meat or vegetables that have been sprayed with cow manure-tainted water.  In the US, E. coli is the leading cause of food-borne illness, accounting for about 73,000 infections and 61 deaths; last year, over 22 million pounds of beef and vegetables were recalled due to E. coli outbreaks.

E. coli are a group of bacteria found in animal intestines and feces.  Some strains are necessary for digestion; some are harmful, even deadly, such as the very rare and toxin-producing strain E. coli O111 and the virulent, sometimes deadly E. coli O157:H7 strain that is generally found to be the culprit in E. coli-related food-borne illness outbreaks.  Both strains are among those E. coli that may cause serious disease and death and are in a group called Verocytotoxigenic E. coli (VTEC) that are linked to food poisoning.  VTECs can cause fatal blood poisoning, cystitis, and deadly septicemia.  The two serotypes in these deaths have not been released.

Food borne contaminations are exacerbated with a food path that is difficult to police because the food-surveillance system is outdated, under-funded, and overwhelmed by the emergence of mega-farms, mega-distribution centers, and mega-transporters.  Couple this with the overarching problem with infectious diseases, which are now becoming more resistant to bacteria because of antibiotic overuse and abuse which has resulted in numerous instances of drug resistant E. coli being reported world-wide.  These drug resistant cases of E. coli 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.

In addition to the spread of E. coli—in a variety of deadly and dangerous strains—and the growing antibiotic resistance of infections, there is compelling data that the negative health effects of E. coli, regardless of strain, can remain for months and years later.  This means that these illnesses can have long-term, lasting effects that can either linger for months or years or can show up months or years—as late as 10-to-20 years—after the original illness.

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