By: Candess Zona-Mendola

Details surrounding the additional Oregon E. coli O157:H7 cases stemming from a Portland, Oregon- based Montessori school have been released. Test results obtained from some of the children who are sick have returned with positive results and genetic matches to the same rare strain of E. coli O157:H7 involved in this outbreak. As of the date of this post, the additional cases have yet to be updated on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention outbreak page concerning this outbreak. The current case count for Oregon is 2, a set of siblings in Clackamas County.

Reports and Ongoing Investigation  

Local news media outlet, Portland Tribune, reports “Multnomah County officials say at least two cases are genetically identical to the nut butter under a March 4 recall.” Another news outlet recently posted that there were at least seven cases, six children and one adult, from the preschool that were believed to be linked to the outbreak. Half of the victims required hospitalization. KOIN 6 News reported that one of the sick children has been hospitalized since March 2, 2017. It is currently unknown if the child is still hospitalized, or the child’s health condition.

The Multnomah County Health Department issued a press release yesterday, March 15, 2017, about the updates on the cases, as follows:

“The Multnomah County Health Department today said seven people have now been sickened by Escherichia coli bacteria (E. coli) at Montessori of Alameda school in Portland. Six are children and one is an adult. All of the cases have occurred in one classroom.

Four of the people are confirmed to have E. coli, O157:H7 and  two of these cases genetically match the E. coli strain from the national I.M. Healthy SoyNut Butter outbreak. Three additional people are known to have shiga-toxin producing E. coli and further test results are pending. The Health Department has been investigating diarrhea illnesses at the school since March 7, 2017.

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The Health Department has been advising parents that any child sick with vomiting or diarrhea, should not attend school.  Parents are advised to contact their healthcare provider with any questions regarding your child’s health. The Multnomah County Health Department Communicable Disease Services team can be reached at (503) 988-3406.”

Additional test results are still pending for the other cases. The health agency appears to be almost certain that these additional cases will also be linked. Dr. Jennifer Vines, a Multnomah County Deputy Health Officer, confirmed that the investigation is still ongoing, “We are working closely with families, staff, and school administrators to stop the spread of this infection and understand how this outbreak happened.” Dr. Vines declined additional questioning and provided no further information when interviewed by Jim Ryan of The Oregonian/OregonLive. Details on the adult who is ill are unknown.

The agency and school have confirmed that the affected products were not served at the school, but that families who attend the school may have the products at home. The school’s Executive Director Tammy Kennedy was forthcoming about the school’s involvement in the investigation:

“We are a nut-free school, so this is an option for our families for their children’s lunches …Our school has very high expectations for health and safety and we practice a high level of sanitation. … I have been in contact with the three families and we look forward to them returning to school soon. … We are working with the health department and our families to stay strong and band together during this difficult time.”

Parents Monitor Their Children for E. coli

Anxiety and worry are prominent as we await the return of the remaining test results. KOIN 6 News reported that some parents are feeling the weight of concern as they monitor their children over the next few days, hoping they did not contract the bacteria like the other cases. One parent commented that they have removed their child from the school for the time being. The health agencies are being realistic with parents during this time about the dangerousness of this bacteria. According to Multnomah County Health Officer Dr. Paul Lewis, this is the “bad kind” of E coli and “[t]his is a nasty bacteria, it can make you very sick and it’s easily spread from person to person.” The agency has put parents and the public on notice to check their homes for the affected products.

Dr. Lewis continued to warn the general public to not eat any of the recalled products. He also added that the agency feels the risk to the general public to contract this particular strain of E. coli O157:H7 is low. Dr. Lewis also confirmed that the state has not received any reports of additional illnesses outside of Clackamas and Multnomah Counties.

Federal and state agencies still urge the general public to be mindful of the symptoms of E. coli if they have ingested a recalled product. Symptoms of E. coli infection can show anywhere from 1 to 9 days after ingestion of contaminated food. Symptoms include: nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, stomach cramps, watery diarrhea, sometimes bloody diarrhea, and potentially, a low grade fever. Urgent medical attention is recommended for anyone exhibiting these symptoms. “Since serious complications can occur, it is important to seek medical attention when suspected,” Dr. Lewis recommends.

Parents expressing general concerns over their children’s health should seek advisement from their pediatrician or primary care physician. If symptoms of E. coli are present or exhibited by a child or member of the family, emergency medical attention is a good idea.

More Cases Could Be Coming

Based on the time it takes for test results to return and the national databases to be updated, the state and federal agencies speculate that there may be more cases linked to the outbreak. Medical providers have obtained stool samples from the identified victims to test for genetic matches. Several agencies have now tested food products, and received positive results, for the presence of E. coli bacteria. It may be another few weeks before all of the cases are identified and the outbreak deemed over. Until then, we at UnsafeFoods will continue to keep you posted on any coming details.