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Sunday May 24th, 2015 7:17AM

'Cluster' of E. coli cases confirmed in Stephens County

By Rob Moore Reporter
TOCCOA - District 2 Public Health officials confirm they are investigating more than a half-dozen cases of E. coli-related illnesses in Stephens County.

District 2 Public Health spokesman Dave Palmer said Friday night officials are trying to determine the source of the exposure to Escherichia coli in the Stephens County area, which has resulted in hospitalizations.

"We don't have a source yet," Palmer said. "We're still investigating."

Asked what steps Public Health officials are taking in the investigation, Palmer provided the following explanation.

"What we do in an investigation is to try to determine the sources, we interview the folks who have it - who are infected," Palmer said. "We try to find out what they've eaten over the past few days, when the illness started, what they've eaten, where they've eaten, all those questions like that, trying to determine one common thing that might link it together, so the investigation is still going on and the interview to try and find out where it came from."

"We have had hospitalizations from it," Palmer said. "I don't know the status of that. I do know that one of the people that was hospitalized has been released, so they all are recovering."

Generally, the illness starts about two to three days after exposure, up to seven days. It usually starts with stomach cramps, followed by prolonged diarrhea, sometimes bloody diarrhea.

Palmer urges anyone who has diarrhea for two or three days to seek medical advice. He said it is important for those who experience diarrhea to drink lots of fluids to stay hydrated.

Asked whether seven cases is a large number at one time, Palmer said it's hard to say. It does, however, raise a red flag triggering an investigation.

"Usually when we have a cluster like that, when it's a half-dozen or so, it raises an alarm for us that hey, something may be going on here and we want to make sure we investigate it, find the source if we can, and fix whatever the problem is," Palmer said.

Palmer reminds people to practice good hand-washing and hygiene, and to cook meat properly.

"If they eat raw meat like salad, they need to make sure they wash them really well," Palmer said.

"Also if they go swimming in a lake or a swimming pool, they need to try not to get water in their mouth and swallow it, because there have been cases from dirty water," he said.

One area Palmer encourages people to exercise care in is surfaces where uncooked meat has been. Those surfaces - whether counters, plates, cutting boards - should be carefully sanitized after the meat is removed. The cooked meat should not be placed where the uncooked meat had been, nor should vegetables be placed on the same preparation area as uncooked meat, he said.

There are several ways people can become infected with E. coli, including:

* Eating contaminated food;

* Drinking unpasteurized (raw) milk;

* Swimming in a lake or swimming pool that is contaminated and swallowing water;

* Contact with cattle;

* Contact with animals or objects at a petting zoo;

* Contact with human feces, when changing diapers or caring for someone who has diarrhea;

* Not washing hands properly after going to the bathroom.

For more information and food safety tips, visit www.phdistrict2.org.
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