By ELLY GRIMM
• Leader & Times
A recent outbreak of E. coli virus has been discovered in the states of Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri and Ohio. The outbreak had sickened 11 people as of the announcement of the outbreak on May 19 on the Center for Disease Control website.
While the outbreak has not reached Kansas, the Seward County Health Department offered some advice on how people can protect themselves, including using good hygiene techniques.
“Anyone can become infected with it and it seems that younger children and the elderly are more likely to develop it,” said Charly Madden, a registered nurse with the health department. “But even healthy adolescents can become ill with it also.”
E. coli, also called Escherichia coli, is a bacteria that lives normally like in the intestines of people and also animals. Madden said that most E. coli is harmless, but there are some strains that can be pretty harmful and damaging to the body that can cause severe diarrhea. People typically become ill through contaminated food or water or from people that have been contaminated with the virus.
“Make sure to cook meats thoroughly, ground beef and chicken both need to be cooked very well. Avoid raw milk and unpasteurized juices and preventing cross contamination, so when you’re preparing foods, not contaminating them. Then also, if you’re sick, stay home,” added Madden. “And especially don’t go get in swimming pools because that’s a good place to get that – also lakes or ponds or even kiddie pools in the backyard.”
In the event of such an outbreak, however, the health department and other healthcare providers wouldn’t be alone in the fight – they would also receive assistance from Seward County Emergency Management.
Director Greg Standard said that while Emergency Management doesn’t really handle the medical care aspect, they would be in charge of getting word out of such an outbreak and the department would also help procure supplies and resources that may be needed.
“We do a lot of things but our function is alert notification’s – probably ours,” Standard said. “Our primary function is to alert and warn the public that, in fact, a hazard or risk is imminent so we would certainly make certain that the word was out to different (media), and then we’d utilize our own communication systems to spread that. Then we’d fall into another one of our areas as to support whatever ongoing actions are being taken.”
Standard also said people can sign up for the Emergency Management department’s alert system, which will send a text, e-mail and voice message to those who are signed up. Standard said he doesn’t believe an E. coli outbreak to be very likely in Liberal.
“If we talked about something that was contagious and could be spread, that would be a much larger scenario, and we’d probably be asking for state and federal resources, pharmaceutical stockpiles the feds have maintained,” he said. “We’d also be working with local providers, whether it’s pharmacies and doctors to make sure they have medications that they need, personnel that they need and any other supplies they would need to treat the patients.”
Madden said that symptoms of E. coli illness begin with having some diarrhea along with mild abdominal pain and cramping, which can eventually lead to bloody stools. Madden said the incubation period for E. coli can be between three and four days and could lead to more life-threatening conditions.
“We just really encourage that if you are sick, stay home, it’s the best prevention, and if you feel that you have that, we would ask to contact your physician,” she said.
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