E. coli infections send two people to the hospital in North County

tstrickland@thetribunenews.comAugust 2, 2013 

Three cases of E. coli sickness have been confirmed in the North County, sending two people to the hospital this week, San Luis Obispo County Public Health Services confirmed Friday.

E. coli bacteria can cause diarrhea, urinary tract infections, respiratory illness and pneumonia, and other illnesses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

County officials are investigating where the patients came in contact with the bacteria.

“We’re unsure of the origin at this point; it’s under investigation. We don’t know if there’s one specific cause that’s related,” said Michelle Shoresman, county Public Health Services’ emergency preparedness program manager.

While the identities of the sick have not been released other than to say the pool
isn’t limited to children, one of the people hospitalized is a 12-year-old girl from the
Creston 4-H Club who showed a dairy goat during the California Mid-State Fair, The Tribune has learned.

But fair officials say they have heard nothing about any such cases.

“There have not been any calls or inquiries on this subject at all,” said Vivian Robertson, chief executive officer of the Paso Robles Event Center, which runs the fair.

County health officials declined to say whether last month’s 12-day fair is being investigated as the point of origin.

Isolated cases of E. coli sickness are common year-round, but the current situation sticks out, officials said.

“What’s unusual is three cases in two days,” said Christine Gaiger, a communicable disease program manager with the health department.

“They think the same cases were exposed around the same time, but point of origin isn’t conclusive,” Shoresman added.

Although the sickness can be dangerous, officials also say the reported cases aren’t cause for panic.

“E. coli could be mild or serious. At this point, two people are ill enough to be in the hospital, and one is not. It’s not life-threatening at this point,” Gaiger said.

Two of the three reported cases were identified as being a dangerous strain of the bacteria called E. coli 157, while the strain in the third case hadn’t been confirmed Friday. The cases were reported Wednesday and Thursday.

For now, county health department needs more information. The department on Friday issued an alert to local medical providers, including hospitals, asking that doctors send samples from patients who they suspect of being sickened by the bacteria.

After officials know where people came in contact with the bacteria, the county may issue a notice to the public.

“We’ll put something out if it will help people,” Shoresman said.

A timeline for the investigation wasn’t given.

County Assessor Tom Bordonaro Jr., who also is the Creston 4-H Club community leader, said six to eight people, including him, felt nauseated and sick with flu-like symptoms during the closing weekend of the fair, July 27 and 28.

“We did have (4-H) members, more than just our club, (where)… quite a few folks got the stomach flu on Saturday and Sunday,” he said. “But it was less than 24 hours before they were fine again. They’re not ruling it out that it could have been after the fair that she got E. coli.”

Those who felt sick with flu-like symptoms were with several types of animals at the fair, including hogs and lambs. While the young girl showed a dairy goat, Bordonaro said she also spent a lot of time in the beef, lamb and hog barns, and at several vendor booths, and she spent time away from the fair.

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