Utah public health officials are investigating an increase in Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC) infections across the state. While the source of these infections has not been identified, several ill individuals reported visiting petting zoos, corn mazes, and farms.
Since October 1, 2018, 20 cases of STEC have been reported along the Wasatch Front and in the Central and Southwestern regions of Utah. Cases range in age from 10 months to 71 years old. Eleven cases are younger than 18. Six people were hospitalized and no deaths have been reported. “For the past five years, Utah has averaged about 13 cases of STEC during the month of October,” said Kenneth Davis, epidemiologist with the Utah Department of Health (UDOH). “An average of 113 STEC cases and 25 hospitalizations are reported each year in Utah. This increase in October is higher than normally expected,” said Davis. UDOH is working with Utah’s local health departments to investigate the illnesses and determine the source of infection.
E. coli is a bacteria spread by consuming contaminated food or water, unpasteurized (raw) milk, contact with cattle, or contact with the feces of infected people. People visiting petting zoos and areas where cattle have been are at greater risk of contracting E. coli, especially if they are not practicing good hand hygiene. Symptoms usually appear 3–4 days after exposure and can vary, but often include severe stomach cramps, diarrhea (often bloody), and vomiting. Most people get better within 5–7 days, but some infections are severe or even life-threatening. Hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a type of kidney failure, is a potentially life-threatening complication of E. coli infection. Very young children and the elderly are more likely to develop severe illness and kidney failure than others, but even healthy, older children and young adults can become seriously ill.
Practicing good hand hygiene is one of the best ways to reduce your chance of getting and spreading E. coli infection. Always wash your hands:
- Before and after preparing or eating food
- After using the bathroom or changing diapers
- After touching or being around animals or places where animal feces may be present (e.g., farms, petting zoos, fairs, corn mazes, or even your own backyard)
Other protective measures include:
- Stay home from school or work while you have diarrhea. Most people can return to work or school when they no longer have diarrhea, but special precautions are necessary for food handlers, healthcare workers, and childcare providers and attendees. Check with your employer before returning to work, and check with your child’s child care center before resuming child care.
- Follow the four steps to food safety when preparing food: clean, separate, cook, and chill.
- Avoid raw (unpasteurized) milk, unpasteurized dairy products, and unpasteurized juices (such as fresh apple cider).
- Don’t swallow water when swimming and when playing in lakes, ponds, streams, swimming pools, backyard “kiddie” pools, and splash parks.
Contact your healthcare provider if you have diarrhea that lasts for more than three days, or is accompanied by high fever, blood in the stool, or so much vomiting that you cannot keep liquids down and you pass very little urine. Antibiotics should not be used to treat this infection. There is no evidence that treatment with antibiotics is helpful, and taking antibiotics may increase the risk of HUS. Antidiarrheal agents may also increase that risk.