Nancy Braden, Health Communications
Jefferson County Dept. of Health & Environment
The Jefferson County Sheriff?s Office, in conjunction with the Jefferson County Department of Health and Environment (JCDHE) and the Colorado Department of Health and Environment (CDPHE), announced today that the current illness outbreak at the Jefferson County jail is a foodborne illness caused by Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (E. coli) bacteria. Lab results from collected specimens confirmed evidence of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli. According to Dr. Mark Johnson, JCDHE Executive Director, County Health officials are awaiting further test results to determine the exact strain of the bacteria.
Shiga toxin-producing E. coli is a collective term used for bacteria that produce Shiga toxins including E. coli O157:H7, and more than 100 other non-O157 strains. Outbreaks often are caused by food that has gotten the bacteria, E. coli, in it.
The outbreak investigation began on July 6, 2007 after several inmates became ill. Thus far approximately 70 inmates have reported symptoms; 37 are currently ill and one person is still hospitalized.
Dr. Gayle Miller, epidemiologist for the Jefferson County Health Department, is leading the investigation with a team in collaboration with state health officials. She emphasized Wednesday that identifying the bacteria gets us one step closer finding the source of the illness outbreak, but that it is not always possible to identify the exact source. However, the extensive investigation will continue to try to determine what food was contaminated and how it became contaminated. ?We will be conducting a wide range of concurrent activities including testing samples of food eaten by the ill inmates, testing specimens collected, review of food handling procedures and interviewing the inmates about foods ingested,? said Dr. Miller.
Historically, cases and outbreaks of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli have been associated with eating undercooked beef (especially ground beef), raw milk, unpasteurized apple juice, contaminated water, red leaf lettuce, alfalfa sprouts and venison jerky. The bacteria have also been associated with poultry, pork and lamb. The bacteria can be spread by unwashed hands and/or contact with fecal material.
Shiga toxin-producing E. coli causes symptoms consistent with those being experienced by the inmates: severe abdominal cramping, diarrhea ? often bloody ? and sometimes vomiting and a low-grade fever. The illness generally lasts 5-10 days and those infected usually recover without complications, although rare serious complications can occur. Medical treatment at the jail is aimed at easing immediate symptoms and providing plenty of fluids including intravenous fluids if needed. Antibiotics have not been shown to shorten the duration of symptoms or severity of symptoms and are not recommended as treatment. The Sheriff?s Office is communicating with current and former inmates to ensure that they have information about medical care, personal hygiene and how to prevent spreading the illness to others.
Jefferson County Sheriff Ted Mink said, "The health and safety of our inmate population is of utmost concern and the Sheriff?s Office is working diligently with public health officials and our medical staff to prevent further illnesses and provide treatment to those who are sick."
The Sheriff?s Office and Health Department are working together on prevention and control measures. Some of these include: identifying and isolating ill inmates; testing specimens; collecting data to identify possible sources; review of procedures including laundry washing; and providing food safety and hygiene education to ensure sanitary conditions in kitchen, eating and cell block areas.
The Sheriff's Office has established an information hotline at 303-271-5898 in order to provide timely and accurate information about the progress of this incident.
Any inmates who were recently discharged from the jail, or their family members, who are experiencing intestinal illness including stomach cramps, diarrhea and/or nausea are urged to call the Jefferson County Department of Health and Environment at 303-239-7052.
For more information on Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC) please visit the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment web site at: http://www.cdphe.state.co.us/dc/epidemiology/STEC_fs.html