State investigates cluster of E. coli cases

Six sickened from bacteria, another case likely

Published  10:45 PM HST Mar 26, 2013
HONOLULU -

The state department of health is investigating an outbreak of a rare infectious bacteria and is also asking for help from doctors.

Normally, there is harmless E. coli in our intestines, but sometimes E. coli bacteria can cause people to become ill when it is outside our digestive system. These types of cases do occasionally occur in Hawaii.

Sometimes, there are also outbreaks. Three years ago, an E. coli outbreak, that sickened seven people, was traced back to a Honolulu restaurant.

We generally know or identify at least one, maybe two cases a month. So to have six to seven cases within a month is unusual. It means there definitely is a red flag.

"There is something going on," said state epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Park.

Over the past month, six patients (five children and an elderly resident) tested positive for the sickening strain of E. coli.

Three of those cases were severe enough the patients had to be hospitalized. Two of those patients then developed a potentially life-threatening complication.

According to the state's letter, no source has yet been identified for this current cluster.

So, doctors are being asked to consider the current cluster when evaluating patients with symptoms.

Those symptoms include severe stomach cramps, diarrhea (often bloody), vomiting and usually just a mild fever -- if there is one at all.

E. coli is usually associated with contaminated food or water. While anyone can become infected, very young children and the elderly are more likely to develop severe illness and are at greater risk for life-threatening complications.

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