January 15, 2020 – The Nevada County Public Health Department (NCPHD) typically receives 2-3 reports of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) caused illnesses each year. From July through September 2019, however, NCPHD received eight reports of suspect or confirmed STEC illnesses. Ages of those who were ill ranged from toddler to middle age, and two people developed a serious complication called Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS) that affects the kidneys and blood.
Testing of the STEC was done to see if there was a common strain among those who fell ill, but there were no known matches in strains among the eight ill people, and none matched other known outbreaks.
Though there is not a common source responsible for all of the infections, seven of the eight people had exposure to various livestock in the 10 days before developing symptoms, and six of the eight attended the Nevada County Fair in the 10 days before illness began. By the time cases were reported, it was not feasible to test animals that had been exhibited at the fair. While no specific source explains the increase in STEC illnesses and there are no environmental or animal tests that confirm where the illnesses originated from, it is important to emphasize that E. coli bacteria live in the intestines of animals such as cattle, goats, sheep, and deer, and while most E. coli are harmless, STEC makes toxins that may cause severe illness.
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As a precautionary measure, NCPHD wants to remind everyone that one of the best ways to help prevent an STEC infection is frequent and proper handwashing, especially whenever around animal waste or whenever petting or handling animals or working in their pens. Proper handwashing means using plenty of soap, warm water and scrubbing all surfaces of the hand for at least 20 seconds. This is important for everyone, but it is especially important for young children who are more likely to touch their hands to their mouths and who are at a higher risk for serious complications from STEC.
For more information about E. coli, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at https://www.cdc.gov/ecoli/index.html or visit the California Department of Public Health at https://www.cdph.ca.gov/Programs/CID/DCDC/Pages/Shiga-toxin-producing-Escherichia-coli.aspx.