Health officials: E. coli outbreak in King County has spread to Snohomish County

KING COUNTY, Wash. — Snohomish County health workers said Tuesday an E. coli outbreak in King County has now spread to the North Sound.

Last week, Public Health — Seattle & King County is investigating a cluster of toxic E. coli cases that left seven children infected during a two-week period. Six of them had to be hospitalized.

The children, all under 14, were infected with Shiga toxin-producing E. coli., also known as STEC. The cases were reported between April 22 and May 1. Three of the children are under 5 years old.

Public Health told KIRO 7 that the cases were all over King County, but there were “a few more on the Eastside.”

Additionally, on May 11, Snohomish County reported two more cases involving a woman in her 20s and a child under 10 from separate households. The child has been hospitalized and there is not further information, due to patient privacy.

All the children developed symptoms consistent with STEC including diarrhea, abdominal cramping, nausea and vomiting. One developed a serious kidney complication, and a second child is suspected to also have that complication.

Six of the cases so far completed preliminary PCR testing showing the kids were infected with the bacterial strain E. coli O157:H7 via PCR.

Public Health officials have not yet identified the source of the infection. However, long-time food safety attorney Bill Marler said E. coli hits kids particularly hard — and based on his experience, he has some ideas on possible causes.

“A toxin is produced that gets into the children’s blood streams,” Marler said. “These children may develop acute kidney failure, they may have brain injuries, I’ve seen large intestines have to be removed. This is not a bug you want to play around with.”

Marler said E. coli O157:H7 is essentially the same strain that caused the infamous 1993 Jack in the Box outbreak that sickened 700 people and killed four children. He litigated that case and has been handling E. coli cases ever since.

He said it is not that unusual to have E. coli outbreaks involving only kids.

“When I’ve seen outbreaks that have just involved children before, they tend to be in a day care setting,” Marler said. “If that’s not the case, the other would be — did they consume a product that’s unpasteurized, like unpasteurized milk or unpasteurized juice?”

Marler said raw milk — cow or goat’s milk — have been to blame before.

Public Health investigators haven’t identified any foods, restaurants or other sources in common across the cases, and it isn’t yet known if they share the same source. They are conducting interviews with the kids and parents to determine common links.

Washington State Public Health Laboratories is doing further testing to confirm the strain and perform genetic sequencing.

Health officials said parents should contact their healthcare provider if the child develops serious symptoms.

Get more information from public health here.