The Knox County Health Department has finally concluded its investigation on the matter of the E.coli outbreak that sickened several children and an adult. As it turns out, two E.coli strains from two sources caused the simultaneous outbreak.
June E.coli Outbreak
Last month, several children from Knox County, Tennessee were sent to the hospital to be treated because of an E.coli outbreak. The chain of events began when a child fell ill and was sent home, followed by three more illnesses on the very same day. The week after, the day care center the ill children go to, Kids Place, Inc., closed the classroom that was shared by the ill children and other children below 3 years old.
In the days that followed, a total of 15 people fell ill from E.coli, plus a “secondary” case of infection wherein an adult caught the illness from one of the infected children, and not from the source itself. Of the ill, nine had to be hospitalized, seven of whom experienced kidney complications. One child is still in the hospital, but is reportedly already in fair condition.
Rare Simultaneous Outbreak
On Friday, the Health Department announced that it has concluded its investigations on the outbreak, and that the culprits behind the illnesses have been determined. As it turns out, the initial suspicion of the illnesses being caused by the consumption of raw milk was correct, but so was the other suspicion of them being caused by contact with the animals at the child care center.
Evidently, 10 of the 15 who fell ill reported consuming raw milk from the French Broad Farm, and the E.coli strain in them was found to be the same strain as the one in the cow manure from the farm. On the other hand, the other five who fell ill also had a commonality in that they all attended the same child care center and all had a strain of E.coli that’s different from the strain in ones who drank raw milk.
According to the Health Department, the strain found in those five children is identical to the strain detected in goat fecal matter and hay sample from the facility. Though authorities did not find any E.coli traces in any other environmental samples from inside the facility, it is likely that the illnesses were caused by indirect contact with the goats.
“While it is rare, it appears we had two sets of children sickened by two different strains of E. coli O157 at the same time,” Dr. Martha Buchanan, Health Department Director, told local news.
Both the Kids Place, Inc. And French Broad Farm properly cooperated during the investigations.
Simply put, raw milk is a type of milk from any animal that was not pasteurized to kill potentially harmful bacteria. Some people believe that raw milk has more health benefits compared to pasteurized milk, but it may actually contain harmful bacteria that can cause serious illnesses such as E.coli, Listeria, Salmonella, Brucella, and Cryptosporidium. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, raw milk is the riskiest of all foods from which one may get foodborne illnesses.
In the case of the current outbreak, investigations did not find any traces of E.coli on the raw milk samples they tested, but it doesn’t mean that the ones that the children consumed were not contaminated. According to Dr. Buchanan, this is precisely why raw milk’s safety cannot be guaranteed, as each batch or portion may contain different types of bacteria that will not end up being killed by pasteurization.
“It's not the fault of the dairy operator. Raw milk is just inherently unsafe,” said Buchanan.