10 cases have been confirmed
Another 16 cases are under investigation
3 children are on dialysis
Public health officials in North Carolina said Thursday eight cases of E. coli have been confirmed in the state, and 13 possible cases are being investigated in what they believe might be a growing outbreak.
Four of the confirmed cases are children, and three of them are being treated in hospitals for kidney failure – a typical complication of E. coli, according to Public Information Officer Julie Henry of the North Carolina Health and Human Services.
The first illnesses were reported around October 15, Henry said. State officials believe that most of the victims attended the North Carolina State Fair, which ran from October 13 through October 23 in Raleigh and which drew nearly a million attendees.
“The public health investigators are reasonably confident the state fair was the place the source was, but we have not been able to identify, from anything so far, a definitive, actual source of the outbreak,” she told CNN in a telephone interview.
In an attempt to home in on the source of the outbreak, investigators are asking people who were sickened what they ate and what activities they participated in, she said. They will then compare the responses with those from fair attendees who did not get sick. But Henry acknowledged Friday that officials may never determine the source of the outbreak.
Symptoms of E. coli include abdominal cramps, fever, nausea, vomiting and watery or bloody diarrhea.
After the initial cases were reported, it did not take long for suspicion to be directed at the fair, since an E. coli outbreak in 2005 was traced to a petting zoo at the fair, Henry said.
Officials have alerted hospitals, physicians and county health departments to be on the lookout for patients with possible E. coli symptoms.
The bacteria are found in the feces of animals such as cattle, sheep and goats. Some types of E. coli can sicken people who drink liquids or eat food that has come into contact with the bacteria or who themselves come into contact with infected animals, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.
The majority of U.S. outbreaks – blamed for some 265,000 illnesses and 100 deaths in the United States each year – are linked to raw or undercooked ground beef, unpasteurized milk, unpasteurized juice and leafy greens, HHS said on its website.
Brian Long, director of the North Carolina State Fair press office, said last week that fair officials are cooperating with public health officials as they try to determine the source of the outbreak. “Right now, there are still far more questions than answers, and we know the investigation will take time. But we are eager to help investigators any way we can,” he told CNN.
Lab test results are expected early next week to help health officials determine whether the E. coli bacteria in the confirmed cases contain the same genetic fingerprint.
“We want to make people overly aware that this is still the incubation period, so people can be getting sick,” Henry said.