East Tennessee’s Children Hospital is treating four children in the hospital’s intensive care unit for E. coli, the hospital announced Tuesday.
Dr. Joe Childs, the Chief Medical Officer at Children’s Hospital, says the four are in serious condition. He added the hospital has treated close to 10 children for E. coli in the last ten days, saying this is the largest outbreak he has seen in the last 30 years.
All four children are under the age of four, according to a hospital spokesperson.
The Knox County Health Department said most of the children who got sick drank milk from the French Broad Farm in Mascot, Tenn, a cow-share dairy. KCHD advised the public not to drink raw milk or other unpasteurized products from the farm and should dispose of all raw milk and unpasteurized products they may have from the farm.
WJHL’s sister station, WATE, spoke to someone at the farm. They said they had no comment.
“E. coli can come from undercooked meat, inadequately washed vegetables and fruit or raw milk,” Childs said. “Sometimes it can pass from person to person if there isn’t good hand washing.”
Childs said the consumption of raw milk is not recommended by the FDA and suggests not consuming raw dairy products. It is legal in Tennessee to buy raw milk.
There is minimal risk of contracting E. coli from treated water that is chlorinated, like in fountains or pools, but there is a risk for contracting the illness in ponds or lakes.
Childs said diarrhea is common in lots of childhood illnesses, but said that if the amount of stool children are passing seems excessive, or you aren’t able to keep up with their fluid intake, you should contact your child’s doctor. You should also watch for blood in your child’s stool or if your child isn’t acting normally.
The health department says the only similarities they can confirm are that the cases are occurring at the same time. The department is looking into other possible connections.
Kathleen Killen with the Knox County Health Department confirms that the department is currently investigating two potential sources associated with raw milk and exposure to animals.
Killen says it’s possible for 1,800 E. coli bacteria to fit on the head of a pin at one time but it only takes about 10 to make someone sick.
The department reports on average there are 19 cases of E. coli reported every year.
Dr. Martha Buchanan with the health department says symptoms of E. coli can be serious.
“The diarrhea is watery, and bloody. Sometimes people have fever, sometimes people have vomiting. But mostly people have just crampy, watery, bloody diarrhea. And it can get much more serious than that,” said Buchanan.
Buchanan says serious E. coli cases could lead to kidney failure.
To prevent E. coli, Buchanan says hygiene and proper food preparation are key. Including washing hands, cooking food properly, and knowing food sources.
Children and the elderly are at greatest risk for severe illness or death from E.coli infection. For more information, visit www.cdc.gov or www.tn.gov/health.