Contact: Mark W. Salley
For Immediate Release
Friday, Nov. 7, 2008
Outbreak of E. coli O157 May be Associated with Exposure to Elk Droppings
DENVER? The Jefferson County Department of Health and Environment and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment are investigating an outbreak of E. coli O157 infections among children in the Evergreen mountain area. Today, the state laboratory reported that specimens obtained from elk droppings in the Evergreen area have tested positive for the same strain of E. coli O157 bacteria that was identified in the children.
Eight illnesses have been identified among children aged 4-12 years. Of the eight cases, six are children in Jefferson County, one in Clear Creek County and one in Park County. Illness among the children has occurred sporadically throughout the summer and early fall, beginning in July and most recently in late October.
?Today?s lab results tell us it is very likely the children acquired the E. coli infection from exposure to elk droppings in the environment,? said Alicia Cronquist, epidemiologist at the state health department.
?This is a highly unusual situation, and public health officials are continuing to investigate how the elk in the area may have been exposed. We want to caution the public to take precautions by maintaining good hygiene,? said Gayle L. Miller, senior epidemiologist with the Jefferson County Department of Health & Environment.
Most of the ill children had exposure to elk droppings during outdoor recreation, at local fields, parks or around their homes. While playing outside is good exercise, there are a few simple things people can do following outdoor activities to prevent E. coli O157 infections.
Wash hands thoroughly (preferably with soap and water) after outdoor or recreational time and especially before touching and consuming food. Parents should make sure children do this as well.
In outdoor and sports settings, parents and organizers should thoroughly cleanse items that may come in contact with children?s mouths (water bottles, food and mouth guards) before use. Also, take steps to be certain hands are clean before handling or using such items.
Parents and team staff should ensure that children remove excessive surface grime from hands, preferably with a soap-and-water scrub or hand sanitizers, prior to eating during or after sports games.
Residents of mountain communities heavily populated by deer and elk should clean shoes and boots prior to entering their homes and wash hands thoroughly after doing so.
E. coli 0157 can cause bloody diarrhea and intense abdominal cramps. Some cases may develop into hemolytic uremic syndrome, which usually requires hospitalization. Children and the elderly are especially vulnerable. People who develop severe diarrhea, abdominal cramping and/or blood in their stool should seek medical attention. Parents are advised to refrain from using medications to treat diarrhea, prior to speaking with a physician, as in some cases this may be problematic.
The E. coli outbreak investigation is continuing. Local public school and parks and recreation authorities have been informed. The epidemiological investigation will include phone surveys of some residents in the Evergreen area.