E. coli Outbreak Sickens 13 Boy ScoutsAug 1, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP
Health officials confirmed that 13 boys have fallen ill with E. coli bacterial infections while at a Scout camp in Goshen, Virgina last week. Two have been hospitalized and officials are concerned that more may become ill with the sometimes-fatal infection.
The Virginia Department of Health began receiving reports of sick children on Sunday, when boys from about 70 troops returned home after spending a week at the Goshen Scout Reservation. About 1,700 people passed through Goshen last week and the source of the outbreak remains under investigation, said Christopher Novak, a Health Department medical epidemiologist analyzing the case. "This one is challenging in that it has multiple states involved, and the individuals there are fairly dispersed," he said. "We are trying to … as quickly as possible, get a sense of how widespread the outbreak may be, how many people are ill."
Maryland health officials confirmed one of the 13 cases, according to Karen Black, spokeswoman for the state's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. The 12 Northern Virginia boys, representing both Boy and Cub Scouts, are from 10 to 14 years of age, Novak said, adding that about 18 additional people have experienced some symptoms and might also be infected. Novak declined to identify the counties where the sick children live, citing privacy laws. Between January and June, the Virginia Department of Health recorded 49 cases of E. coli of varying strains, Novak said. Antibiotics typically are not helpful, and infections are often treated by drinking fluids and taking pain relievers, Novak noted.
There has been no confirmation as to what strain of E. coli is involved; however, E. coli strain 0157:H7 is quite virulent and produces a powerful toxin that can cause severe illness and even death and is the leading cause of food and waterborne illness in the U.S. Strain O157:H7 is a deadly bacterium that can cause bloody diarrhea and dehydration and is one of hundreds of E. coli strains. According to Center of Disease Control (CDC) estimates, there are over 70,000 cases of infection yearly with 2,100 hospitalizations and 61 deaths. It is estimated that for every laboratory-confirmed E. coli O157:H7 infection, another four-to-eight symptomatic cases are missed. E. coli, which was most often found in beef products is now appearing in produce and bodies of water and is becoming increasingly antibiotic resistant.
Alan Lambert, Scout executive of the Boy Scouts of America's National Capital Area Council said Goshen comprises six Scout camps and serves 6,000 children each summer. Scout officials have temporarily removed ground beef from camp menus, distributed hand sanitizers, and encouraged hand-washing and proper hygiene, Lambert said. There is also increased supervision for children who prepare their own food, to ensure proper cooking temperatures.
Novak said health officials are trying to determine whether infected Scouts ate the same tainted food or ingested contaminated fluid, such as lake water while swimming. "On Monday the Virginia Department of Health gave us a call and said: 'We're coming out. We need to see you. We've got a problem,'" Lambert said.