Whatcom County E. coli cases still going up

A total of 42 people have been sickened in an E. coli outbreak linked to the Milk Makers Fest, according to an update provided by the Whatcom County Health Department on Tuesday, May 5. Seven people have been hospitalized.

About 1,325 Whatcom County first-graders, plus the teachers and parents who accompanied them, from all of the school districts in Whatcom County went to the event April 21-23 at the Northwest Washington Fair & Event Center in Lynden. The 22nd annual festival was sponsored by Whatcom County Dairy Women.

People who helped set up and take down the event — on April 20 and April 24 — also were among those who have been sickened, according to Greg Stern, Whatcom County health officer.

Reports of people becoming ill, most of them first-graders, started to surface early last week. Some adults and older children who were at the event also were sickened.

Health officials said they don’t expect to see many more new cases among those who were at the event, because the usual incubation period has passed.

The health department is continuing to look for the source of the outbreak of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli.

The Milk Makers Fest introduced young students to farming. It also gave them a chance to pet farm animals, including small horses, sheep, rabbits, chickens and a calf. There was a hay maze and scavenger hunt as well.

It is common for E. coli to be spread to others living in the same household.

Of the 42 cases traced to the festival:

22 have been confirmed by the state’s public health lab or tested positive at local labs — or were people with E. coli symptoms who had been in close contact with someone in the first two groups.
20 additional people had been at the festival and were sick but whose lab results, some of which were pending, weren’t available yet.

The health department is continuing to interview those who have been sickened to find out whether there was a common food or water source or activity, such as the petting zoo or other contact with livestock.

“All this information has to be gone through,” Stern said, adding that could take a couple of weeks.

Symptoms of the bacterial illness include severe stomach cramps, diarrhea that is often bloody, and vomiting. Illness occurs up to eight days after people are infected, which happens when they swallow minute amounts of feces, usually not visible to the naked eye.