Thursday, August 12, 1999

Five more become ill from E. coli

Total of 27 reported in five counties

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Five new cases of E. coli sickness in Greater Cincinnati have boosted the total number in the cluster to 27.

        Health authorities say the increase does not present an increased public health risk. Meanwhile, officials say an investigation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) might be complete by week's end.

        “The CDC thinks we'll be pretty close to a conclusion on Friday,” said Dr. Janet Rickabaugh, Clermont County health commissioner.

        The five new cases — reported Wednesday by the Ohio Department of Health — expand the geographical range of the cluster and the time frame of the illnesses.

        The most recent case was reported in Clermont County on Friday — a week after the previous most recent case. However, the victim was a family member of a previous victim, which suggests that there is no undetected, unconsumed source of tainted food causing new cases, Dr. Rickabaugh said.

        “We believe the public is not in danger,” she said.

        The five new cases included two in Clermont County and one each in Hamilton, Brown and Warren counties. Until now, the cluster had been limited to Hamilton, Butler and Clermont counties.

        All the cases involve E. coli O157:H7, a dangerous, sometimes deadly form of the bacteria. Several of the local victims required hospitalization.

        Of the 27 reported cases, 20 have gone through DNA analysis to see whether the same substrain of the bacteria was responsible. So far, 11 cases have a matching DNA pattern — up from six reported last week, said Ohio Health Department spokesman Randy Hertzer.

        The other nine cases reflected six different DNA pat terns.

        A matching DNA pattern suggests, but does not always prove, a single source may be causing the illness, such as eating contaminated food at the same restaurant.

        Health officials do think a food source triggered the first of the 11 matching cases. However, some of the 11 are “secondary” cases, meaning the illness was transmitted to family members, Dr. Rickabaugh said.

        Health officials are not discussing what they think may be the common source of the illnesses. But some other questions have been addressed.

        Early on, health officials looked into several E. coli cases reported in Franklin County, but DNA testing found those cases to be unrelated to the cases in Southwest Ohio.

        The Ohio Health Department also looked into whether the Cincinnati or Columbus cases were connected to a meat recall involving a New Hampshire-based company. DNA testing found no connection.

        Questions also have been raised about whether iced tea with high fecal coliform bacteria counts caused some of the illnesses. “There is not even the remotest possibility,” Dr. Rickabaugh said.

        Meanwhile, an Aug. 3 memo to local health commissioners from the Ohio Department of Health stated that three E. coli cases in Kentucky and one in Indiana “may be related to this cluster.”

        So far, 27 cases of E. coli sickness have been reported in five Southwest Ohio counties. The cases occurred between June 8 and Aug. 6.

        Here's a breakdown of the cases by county:

        • Hamilton 10

        • Clermont 8

        • Butler 7

        • Warren 1

        • Brown 1

        Source: Ohio Department of Health


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