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E. Coli Sickens Six Indiana School Children

Several Hospitalized, As Health Officials Investigate Even More Suspected E. Coli Cases

Sep 26, 2007 | Parker Waichman LLP

Health officials in Indiana are frantically trying to pinpoint the source of E. coli contamination that has left at least six students at one elementary school sick.  Four of the victims are known to have been infected with the deadly E. coli O157:H7 strain, and some are hospitalized. 

All of the students attended Galena Elementary School in Floyd Knobs, Indiana.  Authorities are also investigating four other suspected E. coli cases which involve other Galena students and their siblings.   Despite the outbreak, the Floyd County medical examiner told local media outlets that he believed the school was safe.

Health authorities have yet to discover the source of the E. coli bacteria that sickened the children.   They do not believe that it is related to a field trip the students took to a petting zoo, because the trip occurred too long ago to be responsible for the E. coli outbreak.   E. coli bacteria are normally found in animal feces.  Officials also said that the condition of the Galena Elementary kitchen was “spotless”.   The medical examiner said that it could take days or weeks to determine where the E. coli came from.   In about 25% of E. coli outbreaks, a source is never found.

E. coli bacteria can contaminate most foods.   The O157:H7strain is common in the intestines of cows.  Meat products are likely to become contaminated with E. coli O157:H7 during the slaughtering process.    Fruits and vegetables can become contaminated in the fields if they come into contact with E. coli in water or soil.   Or they may be contaminated during processing if workers do not employ proper hand washing practices.  Because E. coli cannot be easily washed away, vegetables that are typically eaten raw, like lettuce, can lead to outbreaks of the disease.

The  E. coli O157:H7 strain is a deadly form of the bacteria that can cause bloody diarrhea and dehydration.  Young children, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems are particularly vulnerable to E. coli O157:H7.   In some rare instances, the disease can progress to the point of kidney failure and death.  While most people who suffer from E. coli poisoning recover within 7 to 10 days, extreme cases can require blood transfusions and dialysis treatments.  Apparently, an undisclosed number of children sickened in the Galena Elementary outbreak are undergoing such treatment at a local hospital.

E. coli outbreaks have become disturbingly common over the past several years.   Last year, E. coli tainted fresh bagged spinach was recalled by the Dole Food Company after it killed 3 people and sickened 200 others.   Just today, New Jersey-based Topps Meat Company recalled more than 300,000 pounds of frozen beef products after several people in New York State became ill after eating patties made by the company.   And in late August, Interstate Meats of Oregon recalled 20 tons of ground beef after E. coli in the meat sickened people in the Pacific Northwest.  Recent food poisoning scares have increased calls for more governmental oversight of food manufacturers, but so far, the outbreaks show no signs of ending.

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