Four cases of E. Coli confirmed in Boone County

The source of the four confirmed cases of E. Coli in Boone County remains unknown.
Maria Harper / Graphic Designer

The number of confirmed E. Coli cases in Boone County has edged to four as of Monday. Lab tests are pending for one more patient who might be sick with the bacteria.

The victims, ranging from 11 to 63 years of age, have all sought medical care. Two have required hospitalization.

“It is a sugar toxin-forming E. Coli,” Gerry Worley, manager of environmental health for the Columbia/Boone County Department of Public Health and Human Services, said. “In other words, it is one of those that causes more serious symptoms than other strains of E. Coli. There are many forms that do not cause illness in people, but this one does.”

The food-borne bacteria are often transmitted through contaminated fecal matter, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nausea, upset stomach and diarrhea are common symptoms.

Boone County had no cases of the bacteria in 2008, three in 2009 and one in 2010. Those numbers rose to eight confirmed or suspected cases thus far in 2011.

“This particular outbreak we are working with right now is typically associated with fresh fruits or vegetables that have been contaminated with the bacteria,” Worley said. “The bacteria is easily killed if the food is cooked to the proper temperature, but most people do not cook fruits or fresh vegetables. A small amount of E. Coli on a leafy green, for instance, could result in someone getting ill.”

Although the source of the outbreak is unknown, officials say it is unrelated to the St. Louis outbreak, which has affected 26 people since Oct. 25.

No link has been established between the four confirmed cases. An ongoing investigation is underway in collaboration with the Missouri Department of Health and the CDC, Worley said.

“We have not traced the origins,” Worley said. “We have determined that two of the E. colis are not related to the other two. They were isolated E. coli’s from different exposures. There are two that we have not yet determined are related to the St. Louis outbreak or not.”

The best way to prevent the bacteria is to practice good hygiene, cook meat to its proper temperature and wash fresh fruits and vegetables under cold, running water, according to the CDC.

“If you take those steps, you will be effective in warding off any food-borne illness related to E. coli,” Worley said.

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