Va. Child Dies From E. Coli Infection

By Tim Persinko
|  Tuesday, Jun 7, 2011  |  Updated 12:36 PM EDT
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A child in Virginia has died from a strain of E. coli bacteria infection, and a relative has been sickened.

The victim was reportedly a two-year-old  from Dryden, in southwest Virginia.

Virginia Department of Health spokesperson Robert Parker told NBC the strain identified in the case is different from the one identified in the outbreak that has caused illnesses in Germany. 

An outbreak of E.coli has led to 23 deaths in Europe, and sickened nearly 100 people.  Four cases in the United States have been connected with this European outbreak, which officials believe may have originated in salad sprouts.  In all of those four cases, the CDC said the U.S. residents had recently traveled in Europe.  Testing of farm produce in Germany was inconclusive early this week, and the source of the outbreak has yet to be determined.

Tricities.com reported that the Virginia victim was taken to an Eastern Tennessee hospital suffering from bloody diarrhea, along with her brother, also suffering from similar symptoms.  Media reports trace the source of the infection to a swimming pool, but the Virginia Department of Health could not confirm that on Tuesday.

In Tennessee, 10 other cases of E. coli infection have been identified.  An epidemiologist from the Tennessee Department of Health said the state "clearly has an outbreak."  However, state officials said that the strain is unrelated to the outbreak in Germany, and that this was a case of "bad timing."

An official from the Virginia Department of Health said the agency identifies an average of 149 cases of E. Coli infection annually, and that reports are not uncommon.  The vast majority of cases that happen in the Commonwealth are isolated and sporadic, stemming from unsanitary food preparation or undercooked meat. 

The last cluster of cases in Virginia occurred in 2008, when 84 were sickened at Boy Scout camp after eating undercooked burger meat.  The meat from the outbreak was tracked to a California food distributor, which subsequently issued a recall.

Allen Brench, an epidemiologist from the Maryland Department of Health, said that salad greens, particularly sprouts, are a frequent culprit in food-borne illness.  He said for most foods, like meats or baked good, there is a "kill step," where cooking heat kills bacteria.  However, spinach, salad greens, and sprouts are all ready to eat, and miss that sterilization step.

Food-borne E. coli contamination can come during any number of steps in the food distribution process, but Brench said one of the best means of prevention is something consumers can do: washing their hands.

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