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Eighth Case of E. Coli Reported in Indiana Elementary School Outbreak

Investigators Still Searching for Source of Deadly Bacteria

Oct 1, 2007 | Parker Waichman LLP

Another case of E. coli poisoning was confirmed by Indiana health officials this weekend, bringing the number of victims sickened in the Floyd County outbreak to 8.   The Indiana Health Department is investigating another 8 suspected cases of E. coli in Floyd County, and expects to have positive confirmation that at least one of those is in fact E. coli.  Officials still have not been able to determine the source of the E. coli poisoning.

All of the victims of this E. coli outbreak have a connection to the Galena Elementary School in Floyds Knobs, Indiana.   Most of those afflicted are students at the school, although some are siblings who may have been infected with E. coli through secondary contact.   Although E. coli is not contagious, it can be spread through person-to-person contact if an infected person does not wash their hands.

Children at Galena Elementary started becoming sick with diarrhea and other E. coli symptoms on September 17, but the health department did not confirm the bacterial illness until September 21.  At least some of the children sickened in the Galena outbreak were being treated at Kosair Children’s Hospital in Louisville, Kentucky.  A spokesperson for the hospital told the Louisville Courier-Journal that the hospital was treating 9 children with E. coli poisoning, but several of those patients were from areas outside of Floyd County, Indiana and had no connection to the Galena outbreak.   The hospital would not say how many Galena children were being treated.

E. coli bacteria produce an often deadly toxin that can cause bloody diarrhea and dehydration.  Young children, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems are particularly vulnerable to E. coli.   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

Floyd County officials still have not traced the source of the Galena E. coli outbreak.  An inspection of the school's kitchen found it to be “spotless”.   They also do not think that this outbreak is related to the recent recall of Topps Meat Company frozen hamburgers, as the Galena Elementary cafeteria does not purchase any frozen products from that company.

During a news conference last Friday, a spokesperson from the Indiana Health Department defended the state’s decisions to allow Galena Elementary to remain open despite the E. coli outbreak.  They said that as soon as the E. coli poisoning was confirmed, the school was thoroughly cleaned.   And since there was no E. coli detected at the school, it is not considered a site of “active transmission”.   But despite the health department’s assurances that the school is safe, attendance at Galena continues to be far below normal levels.

E. coli outbreaks have become disturbingly common over the past several years.   Last year, E. coli-laced fresh bagged spinach was recalled by the Dole Food Company after it killed 3 people and sickened 200 others.   And over the weekend, New Jersey-based Topps Meat Company expanded a recent recall of tainted hamburger patties that have sickened 25 people in 8 states.  Other E. coli outbreaks caused by contaminated foods have been reported in the South, West and Pacific Northwest in the past several months.


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