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STEC Outbreak at Appalachian Fairgrounds Leaves Child Brain Damaged and At Least Eight Hospitalized

Posted in Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome,Our Blog,Outbreaks & Recalls on March 12, 2024

STEC Outbreak at Appalachian Fairgrounds Leaves Child Brain Damaged and At Least Eight Hospitalized

Image by Chelsea Ouellet from Pixabay

An STEC outbreak at Appalachian Fairgrounds has hospitalized at least eight children.

Elementary school students in Sullivan and Washington counties brought back more than just souvenirs after a field trip to the Appalachian Fairgrounds. Many experienced an E. coli infection and brought it home to their families.

Field Trip Took Place September 26 and September 27, 2023

Tri-county area schools took a field trip to the Appalachian Fairgrounds located in Gray, Tennessee between September 26 and 27, 2023. Students visited the animal exhibit and other offerings at the facility those days.

Several illnesses were reported following this trip.

Environmental testing was performed, and additional analysis conducted. However it was patient interviews that ultimately linked the illnesses to the facility.

Representative from Northeast Regional Health Office Issues Statement About STEC Outbreak at Appalachian Fairgrounds

Following multiple cases of a type of E. coli infection known as Shiga-toxin-producing E. coli or STEC among these elementary school students and their families, the office issued a statement.

“The Northeast Regional Health Office and the Sullivan County Health Department are investigating several cases of illness caused by Shiga-toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) among elementary school children in Washington and Sullivan counties. These illnesses occurred after some classes visited an animal exhibit at the fairgrounds on September 26 and 27. We are actively working to identify the source of these infections, including performing environmental testing at the site. The exhibit ended on September 27.”

— Dr. David Kirschke, MD, Northeast Regional Health Office

STEC Outbreak at Appalachian Fairgrounds Not Limited to Students in Attendance

While the students were among the first exposed to the serious E. coli infection, they were not the only ones affected by the outbreak.

E. coli is quite contagious. Some students brought the infection home with them, where it spread to other members in the family.

This was the case for an unfortunate child whose brother was the vector for his infection and subsequent complications. In addition to a complication that can cause a type of kidney failure, one small child experienced brain damage as a result of infection.

At Least Eight Hospitalized

Some reports have indicated that at least eight children have been hospitalized and at least four are seriously ill with complications. The true number of cases associated with this outbreak are unknown.

The field trip occurred shortly before a school break, so many children may have experienced mild digestive symptoms of E. coli infection. For some of these cases, a sample was not obtained and confirmed as part of this STEC outbreak at Appalachian Fairgrounds.

What is an STEC Infection?

An STEC infection is a type of bacterial infection caused by certain E. coli strains. Escherichia coli, commonly known as E. coli live in the intestines of people and animals.

Not all E. coli bacteria are bad. Some, on the other hand, can cause serious and even life-threatening infections.

E. coli and STEC infections are most commonly spread though contact with contaminated food or water, contact with people experiencing an STEC infection, and contact with animals.

One of the most common STEC infections comes from a variation called O157. This is the one that hits the news most often because it is the most likely to cause serious illness. Other STEC’s, such as O26, can cause serious illness but it is less likely to result in hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS).

Who is At Risk of STEC Infection

Anyone can become sick from exposure to STEC, however certain groups are more at risk. Children are at the top of that list.

Particularly young children.

Children under 5 years of age are more likely to develop serious illness and HUS than others, but even healthy older children and young adults can become seriously ill following exposure.

How Soon After Exposure Do People Become Sick?

Most people become sick around 3 to 4 days after STEC exposure. However, studies show this can happen in as little as 1 day or as late as 10 days.

What are the Symptoms of STEC?

STEC symptoms generally begin as diarrheal illness. It starts with mild stomach pain or even non-bloody diarrhea that begins to worsen over several days.

If HUS complications arise, it usually develops around 7 days after initial diarrheal symptoms and worsens as diarrhea is improving.

Hemolytic Uremic Symptoms, or HUS

Around 5 to 10 percent of STEC infections result in a potentially life-threatening complication known as HUS. This complication arises from the breakdown of certain types of cells in the body that clog the kidneys, resulting in a type of kidney failure.

HUS symptoms often include decreased urination, paleness of cheeks and inside the lower eyelids, and feeling very tired or “drained.”

Those with HUS should be hospitalized and monitored because their kidneys may stop working and develop other serious problems.

Nearly 40% of patients with HUS require renal replacement therapy, but a little-known complication involves the brain.

The Brain is Affected by STEC

In addition to the kidneys, the brain is also a target organ in STEC patients with HUS. It is this complication that is the most frequent cause of fatalities associated with STEC infection.

Field Trip Leaves Families Heartbroken

What started as a simple field trip ended in illness, long-term complications, and heartbreak. Key prevention measures and some safety tips could have been the difference between a great memory and a lasting negative impact.

Have You Been Impacted by the STEC Outbreak at Appalachian Fairgrounds?

If you have been impacted by the STEC Outbreak at Appalachian Fairgrounds or another outbreak associated with an animal exhibit, you might have questions. The Lange Law Firm has experienced E. coli lawyers that understand your situation and may be able to help. Reach out for your free consultation by calling (833) 330-3663 or click here for email.

Want to Know More About Fair Safety?

If you’d like to know more about fair safety in the news, like STEC Outbreak at Appalachian Fairgrounds, check out the Make Food Safe Blog. We regularly update trending topics, foodborne infections in the news, recalls, and more! Stay tuned for quality information to help keep your family safe, while The Lange Law Firm, PLLC strives to Make Food Safe!

By: Heather Van Tassell (contributing writer, non-lawyer)