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Huntley High School E. coli Outbreak

Posted in Our Blog on September 24, 2023

A press release from McHenry County Department of Health on September 21, 2023, confirms an E. coli outbreak at Huntley High School, a grade 9-12 school with over 3000 students in Huntley Community School District 158. So far there have been six confirmed cases of a serious type of E. coli infection known as STEC or Shiga toxin-producing E. coli.

So far, the source has not been identified.

The Outbreak

The first case of STEC was identified on Sunday, September 17. Shortly after, another five students fell ill. This prompting health official to begin an investigation into the outbreak. The McHenry County Department of Health and Huntley Community School District 158 are working together to respond to this E. coli outbreak at Huntley High School.

The county health department is actively monitoring for additional STEC cases throughout its jurisdiction, but the outbreak seems to be limited to the high school’s students so far.

The investigation is ongoing, but at this time, there is insufficient evidence to indicate the source of the illness. As more information comes to light, hopefully a source can be found.

“At this time, there is insufficient evidence to indicate the source of the illness.”

Huntley High School officials continue to cooperate with McHenry County Department of Health as the investigation continues. Both internal and external sources are being explored as they work to identify the source.

According to the press release, Huntley Community School District 158 are communicating with parents, students and staff.

Letter to Parents

On the same day the press release notified the community, Huntley High School parents were sent an email update from the school’s principal, Dr. Marcus Belin. In the email he explains that, “We are taking this situation seriously and are committed to safety and well-being of our students and staff.”

To assist the investigation, the school has been working with the county health department to connect with the families and students who have been impacted by this outbreak.

In the letter, Principal Belin explains that handwashing and hygiene practices are crucial to minimizing spread of this outbreak and that science teachers included E. coli education in their lessons this week as well as encouraging them to wash their hands regularly.

“As E. coli is easily transmissible among individuals, it’s crucial to stress the significance of practicing good hygiene and frequent handwashing. HHS [Huntley High School] has implemented several proactive measures to keep students and staff safe that we wanted to make you aware of.”

— Dr. Marcus Belin, Huntley High School Principal

Handwashing signs have been posted throughout the building. Additionally, hand sanitizer has been made available in all classrooms and throughout the building as well.

Students who have experienced symptoms such as acute onset diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, abdominal cramps, fever, and body aches are asked to stay home and contact their medical provider.

Students must be symptom-free for at least 48 hours before they may return to school or participate in activities. With homecoming coming up this week, the school will be quite active.

The principal urges caution and cooperation as the school enters homecoming week. “We recognize that homecoming is a special week for our Red Raiders, but we ask for your help in ensuring a safe and healthy environment at school where most of our homecoming activities will be taking place,” Belin said.

E. coli and STEC Explained

Escherichia coli, often referred to as E. coli, is a bacterium normally found in the intestines of people and animals. Most strains of E. coli are a harmless part of your digestive system. However, there are some strains that can make you sick. Others that can make you very, very sick.

People become sick after ingesting STEC bacteria. This can happen when eating contaminated food, touching the mouth after touching a contaminated surface, or eating with unwashed hands after touching a contaminated surface.

Most people begin to feel sick around 3 to 4 days after exposure, but this isn’t always the case. This “incubation period” could be anywhere from 1 to 10 days.

Many people experience mild illness, starting with “mild belly pain” or non-bloody diarrhea that begins to worsen over time.

Symptoms often include:

  • Severe stomach cramps
  • Diarrhea (often bloody)
  • Vomiting
  • Fever less than 101 °F (not always present)

Most people will feel better within 5 to 7 days and can recover without medical assistance. However, others may experience more severe illness or even life-threatening complications.

About 5 to 10% of those with STEC will develop a type of kidney failure known as hemolytic uremic syndrome, or HUS.

HUS Facts

HUS is a serious complication associated with STEC infection. This type of kidney failure occurs when red blood cells are destroyed and clog the filtering units in the kidneys, preventing them from doing their job properly.

If an STEC patient develops HUS, it usually begins around 7 days after initial diarrheal symptoms, just as they are beginning to improve.

HUS symptoms include:

  • Decreased frequency of urination
  • Feeling very tired
  • Paleness of cheeks and inside lower eyelids

This type of complication requires hospitalization, as the kidneys may stop working completely. This can cause additional complications in organ systems and the body. Most people with HUS recover within a few weeks with proper treatment, however some may suffer permanent damage or die.

McHenry County Department of Health Recommendations

The McHenry County Department of Health recommends handwashing with soap and water after common exposure activities, washing and cooking foods to properly, and avoiding certain high-risk foods such as raw dairy products and unpasteurized juices.

“To prevent and stop the spread of infection, the MCDH recommends washing hands with soap and water when preparing and eating food, having contact with animals or their environment, and after bathroom use or changing a diaper; avoiding swallowing water from ponds, lakes, and untreated swimming pools; and washing and cooking foods properly and avoid unpasteurized (raw) dairy products and juices. Those infected should not handle, prepare, or cook food for others until 48 hours after symptoms have resolved.”

To prevent the spread of infection, the county health department urges those with symptoms to minimize the risk of spreading the illness by not preparing food for others for 48 hours after symptoms have resolved.

The Lange Law Firm Can Help

If your child has been impacted by the Huntley High School E. coli outbreak, you might have some questions. The Lange Law Firm, PLLC is an experienced food poisoning law firm, specializing in cases of E. coli outbreaks just like this one. Reach out today for a free consultation to get your questions answered. Call (833) 330-3663 or click here to email for the help you need from a source you can trust.