A little over a week ago, health officials in Green County, Wisconsin announced to the public that they were investigating an E. coli O157:H7 outbreak that began in mid-August. The outbreak claimed the life of a 20-month-old girl and sickened at least 8 others. Today, health officials report that they are still struggling to find the source.

Steven Elbow of The Capital Times, who has been following the health department’s investigation of the outbreak, reported:

“We’re continuing to work with the Division of Public Health at the state and trying to find some common source through any of the risks: food, water, person-to-person via activities or common sites,” said RoAnn Warden, director of the Green County Health Department.

Most of those who were infected with E. coli were children under the age of 6, Warden said. Some of the cases occurred in the same household, and investigators think person-to-person transmission may have played a part.

Most of the cases were in Monroe, but some were in outlying areas of the county, Warden said. It’s been two weeks since officials confirmed any new E. coli infections, all of which were diagnosed between mid-August and the first week of September.

“At this point it’s looking good, and we’re encouraged,” Warden said. But she said that health clinics in the county continue to be on high alert and are testing stool samples of anyone who shows up with gastrointestinal illness.

Escherichia coli (E. coli) are bacteria that live in human and animal intestines. Shiga toxin-producing strains of E. coli, or STECs, are responsible for most food-related E. coli infections. In fact, in 2011 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that E. coli infections account for over 2,000 hospitalizations in the United States each year.

E. coli symptoms change as the infection progresses. Symptoms usually begin two to five days after infection. The initial symptoms include the sudden onset of cramps and abdominal pain, followed by diarrhea within 24 hours. Diarrhea will become increasingly watery, and then noticeably bloody. You can learn more about E. coli infection at www.about-ecoli.com.

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Photo of Claire Mitchell Claire Mitchell

Claire received her J.D. degree from Hofstra University School of Law with a concentration in Energy and the Environment in May 2010. She received her B.A., majoring in English, from Villanova University, magna cum laude. During law school, Claire served as Articles Editor for the Hofstra Labor & Employment Law Journal, was elected President of the Legal Emergency Aid Project and elected Treasurer of Hofstra Law Women. She is currently pursuing an LL.M. degree in Food and Agricultural Law at the University of Arkansas School of Law. In August 2010, Claire was selected as the recipient of the Marler Clark Graduate Assistantship, part of a new public/private partnership that will allow the University of Arkansas School of Law to partner with leaders in the food and agricultural legal communities. Although she began the LL.M. Program in Fayetteville, Arkansas, Claire is now living in Seattle in order to devote more time to her work at Marler Clark and is completing her LL.M. degree through distance learning. In addition to her academic and professional commitments, Claire blogs on Food Poison Journal and has been published in the Food and Drug Law Institute’s Update and the American Agricultural Law Association’s Update.