The Whatcom County Health Department is continuing to look for the cause of an E. coli outbreak among schoolchildren who went to the Milk Makers Fest last week in Lynden.
Six children have been sickened so far with Shiga toxin-producing E. coli.
Public health officials were following up with more than a dozen calls that came in overnight, said Greg Stern, Whatcom County Health officer, on Wednesday, April 29.
The Milk Makers Fest introduces young students to farming. It also gave them a chance to pet farm animals, including small horses, sheep, rabbits, chickens and a calf.
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The health department is interviewing the sick students and their parents to find out whether there was a common food or water source or activity, such as the petting zoo or other contact with livestock.
“It’s a process, especially as this goes on,” Stern said. “It’s going to take a while. We’re getting new cases.”
Symptoms of the illness include severe stomach cramps, diarrhea that is often bloody, and vomiting. People become infected when they swallow minute amounts of feces, usually not visible to the naked eye.
About 1,325 first-graders, plus the teachers and parents who accompanied them, went to the event April 21-23 at the Northwest Washington Fair & Event Center in Lynden. The 22nd annual event was sponsored by the Whatcom County Dairy Women.
“The women in our group are deeply, deeply concerned about these kids. We just want to know that they’re OK,” said Kim Vlas, an officer with the Whatcom County Dairy Women, on Wednesday.
Five of the students who were sickened were first-graders. The sixth was an older child who was involved with the festival but didn’t go as part of a field trip, the health department has said.
The main sources for E. coli illness are contaminated food, contaminated water and contact with livestock.
The children were given pasteurized chocolate milk and they brought sack lunches from home.
The Milk Makers Fest had places for people to clean their hands with soap and water or hand sanitizer, according to Vlas. Volunteers and parents manned them, according to the Whatcom County Dairy Women.
Stern said that if children who attended the event get diarrhea before May 1, their parents should call their doctor’s office for evaluation and testing. Children with diarrhea shouldn’t return to school until 24 hours after the diarrhea has stopped, health officials said.
Meanwhile, health officials are reminding people that they should wash their hands well, especially after using the bathroom and before preparing food for eating.
“Everybody has to be careful with their hand washing,” Stern said.
Additional information about Shiga toxin-producing E. coli is available at cdc.gov/ecoli/general/, or call the Whatcom County Health Department at 360-676-6724.