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Update posted June 10, 2016

Laboratory testing confirmed that all three children have the same strain of STEC bacteria. This strain is the second most common type of STEC found  in Washington (1-2 cases per month statewide). Public Health investigators have not identified a common food consumed by all three children. While each ill child ate produce, there is no type of produce that all three report consuming. Investigators are not finding linkages to either meat products or common restaurants. The children became ill on 5/20, 5/28, and 5/29.  No additional illnesses have been reported; one child remains hospitalized. Because this is a common strain and no common foods have been identified, these cases may be unrelated.

Over the past 5 years, King County has had an average of 22 cases of STEC year-to-date and 28 cases this year so far. Most E. coli cases reported to the health department are isolated with causes never identified. Public Health will continue to investigate this outbreak.

Posted June 9, 2016

Public Health is investigating a cluster of three E. coli infections caused by Shiga-toxin producing E. coli (also called STEC) among young children in King County. Public Health received the first report of illness on 5/26/16, the second report on 6/1/16, and the third on 6/6/16. All the children are under 5 years of age and developed symptoms including diarrhea that became bloody and abdominal cramps. Two children have been hospitalized with complications including a type of kidney injury called hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). The third child was not hospitalized and is recovering at home.

Testing (molecular fingerprinting) to determine if the three children have the same strain of STEC bacteria is underway at the Washington Public Health Laboratory at this time. Our investigation is in progress and it is not known at this time whether these cases may be linked through exposure to a common source or are unrelated (sporadic) cases.

STEC and other foodborne infections occur year round but may increase during the summer months. If you or your child develop new painful or bloody diarrhea, contact your healthcare provider to see if testing for STEC is needed.

About STEC

E. coli bacteria normally live in the intestines of humans and animals. Many strains of E. coli bacteria exist, and most of them are harmless or beneficial to human health. STEC are strains of E. coli that produce Shiga toxin (such as E. coli O157:H7) and can cause serious illness in people.

Infection with STEC can occur through consumption of undercooked ground beef and other beef products; unpasteurized (raw) milk, cheese, and juice; contaminated raw fruits, vegetables, sprouts and herbs; water contaminated with animal feces, or by direct contact with farm animals or their environment. Ready-to-eat foods can also be contaminated with STEC through contact with raw beef or raw beef juices in the kitchen.

Symptoms of STEC include diarrhea (which often becomes bloody) and stomach cramps, with mild or no fever.  Illness typically lasts several days and people can spread infection to others even after symptoms resolve.
To prevent STEC infection:

  • Avoid eating high-risk foods, especially undercooked ground beef and other beef products, unpasteurized (raw) milk or juice or cheese, and raw sprouts.
  • Use a food thermometer to make sure that ground beef has reached a safe internal temperature of 160° F.
  • Wash hands before preparing food, after diapering infants, and after contact with cows, sheep, or goats, their food or treats, or their living environment.
  • Thoroughly wash fresh produce before eating.

For more information about STEC, see: