Public health officials in the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services are working with local health departments in Gaston, Cleveland and Lincoln counties to investigate an outbreak of E. coli infection among people who attended the Cleveland County Fair between September 26 and October 7. As of noon on Thursday, October 11, 8 children and 5 adults are known to have been sickened in the outbreak. Eight of the illnesses are in Cleveland County residents, four are in Gaston County residents, and one case is from Lincoln County.
According to State Health Director Laura Gerald, the State Laboratory for Public Health has confirmed two of the patients have E. coli O157:H7 infections. Escherichia coli are bacteria found in the feces of animals such as cattle, sheep and goats. If people touch contaminated material, food or animals, they can transfer the bacteria from their hands to their mouths, or to others.
“We are working with county health departments, hospitals and physicians in the region to identify any additional cases related to this outbreak,” Gerald said. “We also caution the public to be aware of the symptoms of E. coli infection and to contact their doctor or local health department if they are experiencing symptoms or illness.”
E. coli infection can spread from person to person; however, it can be prevented through frequent hand washing, particularly after using the rest room, after changing diapers, after touching animals and before eating, drinking or preparing food. The symptoms of E. coli infection vary for each person but often include severe stomach cramps, diarrhea (sometimes bloody), and vomiting. If fever is present, it usually is not very high (less than 101°F/less than 38.5°C). Most people get better within five to seven days. Some infections are very mild, but others can be severe or even life-threatening.
“In some cases in young children, this infection can lead to serious complications, so parents should not send sick children to day care or to school to avoid passing it on to others,” Gerald said.
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