Local child recovering after exposure to E. coli

Friday, May 27, 2011

At least one Marshall County child -- perhaps among a couple more and possibly some adults -- has been ill this month as a result of infection from E. coli bacteria, a public health threat that warrants a precautionary note, according to a local pharmacist.

"If your child has diarrhea and vomiting lasting more than two days, then you ought to have them checked" by a physician, the pharmacist said on a condition that she not be named, but acknowledging she knows about one child's case and enough about others so a public service announcement is worthwhile.

"I want people to know it happened," she said. "Watch your children."

It's especially important this holiday weekend, she said. That's because the general public will probably be enjoying backyard barbecues where hotdogs, hamburgers, sausages and other meats will be cooked.

Even restaurant menus warn customers that there's risk associated with undercooked meat and the pharmacist recommended against, for example, cooking ten hamburgers for five couples and holding two cooked burgers for one late couple.

Information from the federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta also indicates some maladies could also come from contaminated water as indicated by the presence of E. coli.

"Escherichia coli (abbreviated as E. coli) are a large and diverse group of bacteria," the CDC's Web site states. "Although most strains of E. coli are harmless, others can make you sick. Some kinds of E. coli can cause diarrhea, while others cause urinary tract infections, respiratory illness and pneumonia, and other illnesses. Still other kinds of E. coli are used as markers for water contamination - so you might hear about E. coli being found in drinking water, which are not themselves harmful, but indicate the water is contaminated."

The Marshall County child who suffered ill effects from E. coli was treated at Vanderbilt University Medical Center where a spokeswoman honored the child's parent's request to decline an interview. The father called this newspaper and reported his daughter is recovering, but he declined to say more.

Still, the pharmacist reported that the girl is recovering, in part, because of three treatments: the first two to re-hydrate the child's body after losing fluids and the third was dialysis clean her blood of infection. People have good and bad micro-organisms in their body and when they get out of balance, one bodily response is to eject the extra bacteria.

It's unknown where the child had contact with E. coli, she said.

The other child became a patient at Vanderbilt Children's Hospital where the pharmacist said staffers did an excellent job of explaining the malady to the little girl.

State health officials spoke with the girl's relatives asking if they were aware of any similarities between the children's lives, locations or habits that might reveal a connection, but none had been reported, the pharmacist said.

Such inquiries by heath officials is routine because E. coli infection is a reportable illness, meaning it's a condition for which statistics are maintained by government agencies. With regard to the two to possibly six cases in Marshall County, the numbers apparently haven't been tabulated. That's indicated by a state Health Department spokeswoman's statement on Tuesday.

"We have been notified of two cases of E. coli in residents of our South Central region and are awaiting lab test results on subtype," Shelley L. Walker, communication and marketing coordinator for the Tennessee Department of Health, said.

Walker did not have any specific details from this South Central Tennessee Region, so she was unable to verify whether the two cases are the cases known by county residents, including the pharmacist and others who've provided information.

Again, the Health Department and the CDC collect statistics.

"There is no evidence to suggest at this time that there is an ongoing outbreak in that region. The Department of Health has been notified of eight cases of E. coli statewide so far this year."

In Atlanta, CDC spokeswoman Lola Russell was asked about the one E. coli case, and she said, "We are following more than 30 food-borne issues around the country at any given time. We prefer that the local authorities speak."

Marshall County Health Department Director Jason Lewis was without information on any recent cases in Marshall County.

"We don't see sick patients," Lewis said. "We have a well-child clinic, and would refer (such patients) to the emergency room or a primary care physician."

Under those circumstances, health care professionals are required to report what they find, and that requires laboratory analysis.

Symptoms of the infections vary for each person

However, the CDC reported they often include vomiting, severe stomach cramps, and diarrhea, often bloody. If there is fever, it usually less than 101.

Most people get better in 5-7 days. Some infections are very mild. Others are severe or even life-threatening.