October 15, 2012 — An outbreak of E. coli food poisoning has sickened at least 21 people and caused the death of a 2 year-old boy. All of the people attended the Cleveland County Fair, west of Charlotte, North Carolina, but officials at the health department have been unable to identify the exact source of the outbreak. The life-threatening strain of the bacteria affects the kidneys.
Health officials say the number of cases is on the rise. At least 14 children have fallen ill with E. coli poisoning. At least six of the children required hospitalization and intensive care for their injuries. Illnesses have been confirmed in Gaston, Cleveland, and Lincoln counties.
At least three people are on dialysis, and four are suffering from Hemolytic-uremic syndrome (HUS). The disease occurs when damaged red blood cells clog the filtering system in the kidneys. It may eventually cause life-threatening kidney failure. The disease is most common and most serious in children.
Health officials in the region are also working with doctors to help identify cases. Anyone who attended the county fair and had diarrhea for at least three days, or blood in their stools after October 1 is advised to seek emergency medical attention.
E. coli is a bacteria that is commonly found in the intestines and feces of animals that are often showcased at county fairs — cattle, sheep, and goats. Some of the most serious strains of E. coli produce a toxin called Shiga toxin, which can cause severe kidney damage, kidney failure, and death in humans. Symptoms of E. coli infection may not appear right away, because the disease has an incubation period of up to 11 days after exposure to the bacteria. About 10% of people who are infected with E. coli develop HUS, and 3-5% of infections are fatal.
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