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September 13, 1999

E. coli Outbreak in Illinois Leaves 20 Hospitalized and over 280 Others Sick

SPRINGFIELD, IL (Safety Alerts) – The Illinois Department of Public Health is investigating an outbreak of E. coli 0157:H7 that has been linked to a private party for 1,800 held Sept. 4 at a farm near Petersburg that has left 20 persons hospitalized and 281 other visitors have reported symptoms indicating possible illness related to the outbreak.

Laboratory tests received today confirmed that at least 27 of those who are ill were positive for E. coli 0157:H7. Interviews with those hospitalized, others who are ill and their doctors linked the illnesses to the party, which was held in a cow pasture.

Of the 1800 people who attended, officials have been able to contact only 550.  Dr. John R. Lumpkin, state public health director, is urging those who attended the event to seek medical attention for sicknesses involving abdominal cramps with diarrhea.

Preliminary information indicates that persons from 16 Illinois counties and 7 other states attended the event.  The 7 states besides Illinois are California, Florida, Hawaii, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri and Ohio.

“This particular strain of E. coli produces a powerful toxin that can cause severe illness and even death,” Dr. Lumpkin said. “People who are ill should immediately contact their physician.”

Staff from the Department, Menard County Health Department and local health departments will telephone those who attended the event and signed their names and addresses to a guest register. Those called will be told of the outbreak and asked if they have been ill with symptoms associated with E. coli. They also will be questioned about the food they ate, what they drank and other possible exposures . Information about the outbreak is being sent to local health departments throughout Illinois, to Springfield area physicians and to states with residents who attended.

E. coli 0157:H7 can cause severe, often bloody diarrhea and painful abdominal cramps, but some people show few or no symptoms. In some persons, particularly children younger than 5 years of age and the elderly, the infections can lead to hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), which can result in stroke, seizures and death.

The typical incubation period for the disease is from three to eight days, but can be longer. The illness usually resolves itself in five to 10 days without antibiotics or other specific treatment.

The organism can be found in the intestines and fecal waste of cattle and, when the animals are slaughtered, intestinal contents can contaminate the meat.

The bacteria are present in the stools of infected persons and can be passed from one person to another if hygiene and hand washing habits are inadequate.


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