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Utah E coli Outbreak? Corn Mazes, Farms, and Petting Zoos to Blame?

Posted in E. coli,Outbreaks & Recalls on October 26, 2018

Utah’s Department of Public Health announced yesterday that they are investigating a concerning spike in STEC E coli cases in the state. Typically, the state sees 13 E coli cases in the month of October, but with this month already logging in 20 cases, many of which have been hospitalized, the concern of a Utah E coli outbreak is real. “It’s about a 50 percent increase than what we were expecting,” Utah Department of Health epidemiologist Kenneth Davis said. “An average of 113 STEC cases and 25 hospitalizations are reported each year in Utah. This increase in October is higher than normally expected,” said Davis. He confirmed the UDOH is working with Utah’s local health departments to investigate the illnesses and determine the source of infection.

In the meantime, anyone with E coli symptoms are urged to seek immediate medical attention. Early medical attention can help reduce the risk of long-term complications, like HUS.

With the timeframe of cases being linked still lagging, there is a likelihood that more cases are going to be confirmed. Here’s what you need to know about this concerning turn of events in Utah:

What We Know

The Utah DOH reported that, as of October 1, 2018, they have 20 confirmed cases “of the toxin-producing E. coli infections reported statewide, primarily along the Wasatch Front and in the central and southwest regions.” Those who have reported illnesses claim to have visited petting zoos, corn mazes, and farms preceding their illnesses. The Utah DOH has not yet identified a single source, but the hunt is on.

Of the 20 confirmed cases, 6 people have been hospitalized. Thankfully, no deaths have been reported at this time. It is unknown if anyone has developed hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) at this time. But it is a definite concern. The ages of the confirmed cases range from 10 months to 71 years old, with 11 of the confirmed cases involving children. With so many children with E coli, there is a high risk of the development of HUS with STEC E coli infections.

Utah DOH Warnings

Fall is in full swing. If you are like me, I am taking my kids to pumpkin patches and fairs, as well as enjoying hay rides and good old bonfires. The Utah DOH is urging families to take precaution anytime children (or adults for that matter) are exposed to animals and their excrement. Handwashing is so important. Mr. Davis believes handwashing, or rather the lack thereof, could be one of the issues we are seeing here. “Just being in contact with any sort of manure is a good way to get E. coli,” Davis said.

The Utah DOH offered the following information on E coli:

“E. coli is a bacterium spread by consuming contaminated food or water, unpasteurized (raw) milk, contact with cattle, or contact with the feces of infected people. People visiting petting zoos and areas where cattle have been are at greater risk of contracting E. coli, especially if they are not practicing good hand hygiene. Symptoms usually appear 3–4 days after exposure and can vary, but often include severe stomach cramps, diarrhea (often bloody), and vomiting. Most people get better within 5–7 days, but some infections are severe or even life-threatening. Hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a type of kidney failure, is a potentially life-threatening complication of E. coli infection. Very young children and the elderly are more likely to develop severe illness and kidney failure than others, but even healthy, older children and young adults can become seriously ill.”

Utah DOH Recommendations

The Utah DOH is recommending that Utah citizens remember to heed good handwashing and hygiene practices. According to them:

“Practicing good hand hygiene is one of the best ways to reduce your chance of getting and spreading E. coli infection. Always wash your hands:

  • Before and after preparing or eating food
  • After using the bathroom or changing diapers
  • After touching or being around animals or places where animal feces may be present (e.g., farms, petting zoos, fairs, corn mazes, or even your own backyard)

Other protective measures include:

  • Stay home from school or work while you have diarrhea. Most people can return to work or school when they no longer have diarrhea, but special precautions are necessary for food handlers, healthcare workers, and childcare providers and attendees. Check with your employer before returning to work, and check with your child’s child care center before resuming child care.
  • Follow the four steps to food safety when preparing food: clean, separate, cook, and chill.
  • Avoid raw (unpasteurized) milk, unpasteurized dairy products, and unpasteurized juices (such as fresh apple cider).
  • Don’t swallow water when swimming and when playing in lakes, ponds, streams, swimming pools, backyard “kiddie” pools, and splash parks.”

What is HUS?

HUS, or hemolytic uremic syndrome is a potentially life-threatening complication affecting the kidneys as a result of STEC infection.  About 5 to 10% of those diagnosed with STEC end up with HUS.  People with HUS should be hospitalized, otherwise they could experience kidney failure and other serious health problems.  Though most people with HUS can recover within just a few weeks, some may suffer permanent damage and not recover. Symptoms of HUS develop about 7 days after initial STEC symptoms appear, often as diarrheal symptoms are improving.  Someone with HUS may experience a decrease in the frequency of urination, a very tired feeling, and pallor of the cheeks and lower eyelids.

If anyone exhibits any of the symptoms of E coli or HUS, urgent medical attention is highly recommended.

Our E coli Lawyer is Here to Help You

If you believe you have developed an E coli infection from visiting a petting zoo, a farm, or a corn maze, we want you to know that an E coli Lawyer at the Lange Law Firm, PLLC is currently investigating this matter and offering free legal consultations. Our lawyer, Jory Lange became a lawyer to help make our communities and families safer.

If you or a loved one have become ill with E coli, you can call (833) 330-3663 for a free legal consultation or complete the form here.

By: Candess Zona-Mendola, Editor (Non-Lawyer)