The La Crosse County Health Department is conducting a disease investigation on reported cases of E. coli among La Crosse County residents.

Children under age 5 and the elderly are most susceptible to infection. To date, there have been 8 cases of E. coli O157, a particularly nasty form, which produces a toxin that can be harmful to the body organs such as the kidneys. This form of E. coli is also called STEC- Shiga Toxin-Producing Escherichia coli. Of the 8 cases, 6 children have been hospitalized for HUS – Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome.

The Health Department is working with the Wisconsin Division of Health to complete disease investigation to contain the outbreak. At this time, the investigation is ongoing, and a single source of infection or contamination has not be identified.

E. coli is a bacterial infection that is more common during the summer months. Cases can be linked or stand alone. It is transmitted by eating contaminated food or water and by contact with fecal material from infected persons or animals. Person to person spread of bacteria is possible and may occur in family settings, daycare centers and nursing homes.

Signs and symptom of E. coli O157 infection or STEC include severe abdominal cramps and loose and bloody diarrhea. Symptoms occur an average of 3-5 days after swallowing the germ. Some individuals become infected but do not develop symptoms. People do not develop immunity to E. coli.

Parents and caregivers whose children have persistent diarrhea (2-3 days) should consult their child’s doctor, keep the child out of daycare and school and follow extreme hand hygiene to prevent the spread of the bacteria. Testing for E- coli is done by sampling the stool and culturing the bacteria in a laboratory. Testing can take several days for results to be completed.

Precautions for the public at this time consist of:

  • Hand hygiene – hand washing with plenty of soap and water. Special attention should be given to hand washing after using the bathroom, when changing diapers, before preparing food and eating and after coming in from outside activities.
  • Parents need to supervise handwashing for their young children to ensure that hands have been appropriately washed.
  • Parents and caregivers should keep their ill children out of school and daycare until advised to return by their medical provider. The Health Department recommends children stay home until they have been symptom free for 48 hours (2 days).

Persons with E. coli infection usually feel better over a few days without specific treatment. Rest and fluids to prevent and treat dehydration are recommended. For more information on E. coli (O157), STEC or HUS and hand washing techniques, please visit the La Crosse County Health Dept. website at