Scout E. coli Update: Numbers of Ill Rising and Camp ClosedAug 4, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP
Although official reports vary, the recent E. coli outbreak at the Boy Scout camp in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, has sickened somewhere between 15 and 18 people with at least 15 boy and cub scouts and one adult confirmed poisoned by E. coli. Of these, there have been 10 hospitalizations. Six of these patients were treated and released and, of the four remaining, two had hemolytic uremic syndrome. HUS occurs when the toxin produced by the bacterium enters the bloodstream, according to Health Department epidemiologist, Christopher Novak. HUS can lead to kidney failure and can require dialysis. It is believed that the outbreak is responsible for additional illness numbering in the dozens. Those confirmed infected have been infected with E. coli 0157:H7, a seriously virulent and sometimes deadly strain of E. coli.
The Virginia Department of Health said it began receiving reports last 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, said Novak, who added, "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." Reports indicate that many as 60-70 people are now exhibiting symptoms of E. coli infection.
The source of the outbreak continues to remain under investigation and Novak said approximately 30 employees were investigating the outbreak, including conducting interviews of Scout troops and collecting stool samples from those with symptoms. Novak also stated that one possible infection source could be foil-packaged meals that include ground beef and vegetables. This typical camp fare is generally cooked over a fire by Scouts and does not cause problems when cooked long enough and at the right temperature, Novak said. Although E. coli outbreaks are generally linked to undercooked and contaminated ground beef, E. coli can also originate from unwashed greens, swimming in contaminated water, and food fouled by preparers who have not washed their hands.
E. coli strain 0157:H7 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. 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.
According to a recent Associated Press report, Boy Scout officials closed the camp and Alan Lambert, executive of the National Capital Area Council of the Boy Scouts of America, said Sunday the source of the outbreak remains unknown and the camp will remain closed until further notice. “Our Council immediately decided that closing Goshen Scout Reservation was in the best interest of the Scouts, adult leaders, and our camp staff,” Lambert said. Public health officials who visited the camp examined its food handling and storage practices and recommended changes, said Robert Hicks, director of the Office of Environmental Health Services.