The rate of increase in E. coli infections among Lincoln County residents who attended the Cleveland County Fair appears to be slowing, rising slightly from 10 detected cases on Tuesday to 13 on Thursday.
Earlier in the week, the number had almost doubled in a period of just 24 hours.
Nonetheless, the overall count of people affected by the outbreak, as of 2 p.m. Thursday, is at a staggering 81 people, 52 of whom are children. Eleven individuals have been or are currently hospitalized.
This number includes the Gaston County child whose death from the bacterial infection was confirmed by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services last weekend. The outbreak was first announced last Thursday.
However, as symptoms of E. coli typically appear within 10 days of exposure, health officials believe there will be fewer reported cases moving forward. The fair, which remains the common link between all cases, ended Oct. 7.
“Now that we have passed Oct. 17, we do not anticipate many new cases associated with the initial exposure; however, there is still the possibility of secondary cases (person-to-person transmission) for several weeks,” Julie Henry, acting director of public affairs for the DHHS, said in a press release Thursday.
The release also confirms what many have suspected by noting that preliminary findings suggest animal exposure to potentially be the source of the outbreak.
E. coli are bacteria found in the waste of animals such as cattle, sheep and goats. If people touch contaminated material, food or animals, they can transfer the bacteria from their hands to their mouths, or to others. Outbreaks have also been associated with contaminated food products.
E. coli infection can spread from person to person; however, it can be prevented through frequent and thorough hand washing, particularly after using the restroom, changing diapers or touching animals and before eating, drinking or preparing food. The symptoms of the bacterial infection vary for each person but often include severe stomach cramps, diarrhea (sometimes bloody) and vomiting.
If fever is present, it usually is not very high. Most people get better within five to seven days. Some infections are very mild, but others can be severe or even life-threatening, according to a DHHS release.
Lincoln County Health Department officials have said they are working closely with physicians, hospitals, other affected counties and the state Division of Public Health to monitor the outbreak. They are urging those who attended the fair and are experiencing symptoms to contact their doctors immediately.
For more information on E. coli, visit http://epi.publichealth.nc.gov/cd/diseases/ecoli.html.