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Washington state officials investigate outbreak of infections caused by E. coli


An outbreak of infections from E. coli is under investigation in the Seattle-King County area.

There have been several patients confirmed in the outbreak. All seven are from East African communities within the county. Genetic fingerprinting results (whole genome sequencing) indicate that all seven ill people have the same genetic strain meaning they likely have a common source of infection, according to public health officials.

Four people have been hospitalized, including three children who developed a type of kidney complication called hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). Six people have recovered. One of the hospitalized patients is currently recovering.

Patients have been among people ranging in age from 11 months old to 35 years old, with five cases occurring in those under 15 years of age. Cases have been reported from Dec. 31, 2021, to Aug. 18, 2022, with six cases reported since June 26, 2022.

“The majority of ill people have reported eating multiple types of meat, including goat and ground beef, during their exposure period but we cannot rule out other possible sources at this time,” health officials reported in the outbreak announcement on Aug. 23.

“At this time, this outbreak does not appear to be related to a multistate outbreak initially found in at least 4 different states, as reported on the CDC website.

“Public Health is conducting interviews with the people ill with STEC ) Shiga toxin-producing E. coli or their parents/guardians to identify any common exposures and provide guidance to help prevent further spread. We are working with the Washington State Department of Health to complete further testing, to identify related cases in other counties, and to begin traceback of products in common. We are also working closely with community partners to share information and guidance about this outbreak and how to prevent more infections.”

About E. coli infections
Anyone who has developed symptoms of E. coli infection should seek medical attention and tell their doctor about their possible exposure to the bacteria. Specific tests are required to diagnose the infections, which can mimic other illnesses.

The symptoms of E. coli infections vary for each person but often include severe stomach cramps and diarrhea, which is often bloody. Some patients may also have a fever. Most patients recover within five to seven days. Others can develop severe or life-threatening symptoms and complications, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

About 5 to 10 percent of those diagnosed with E. coli infections develop a potentially life-threatening kidney failure complication, known as hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). Symptoms of HUS include fever, abdominal pain, feeling very tired, decreased frequency of urination, small unexplained bruises or bleeding, and pallor. 

Many people with HUS recover within a few weeks, but some suffer permanent injuries or death. This condition can occur among people of any age but is most common in children younger than five years old because of their immature immune systems, older adults because of deteriorating immune systems, and people with compromised immune systems such as cancer patients. 

People who experience HUS symptoms should immediately seek emergency medical care. People with HUS will likely be hospitalized because the condition can cause other serious and ongoing problems such as hypertension, chronic kidney disease, brain damage, and neurologic problems.

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