The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is expected to be in Whatcom County until next week as the investigation continues into what caused an E. coli outbreak at the Milk Makers Fest at the Northwest Washington fairgrounds in April.
Next week also is when the CDC likely will have a preliminary report, according to Dr. Scott Lindquist, the Washington state epidemiologist for communicable diseases.
“They’re working on the investigation, calling people and doing the study,” Lindquist said.
The federal agency has been in Whatcom County since May 11 to help Whatcom County and state health officials with the investigation.
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About 1,325 Whatcom County first-grade students, plus the teachers and parents who accompanied them, from all of the school districts in Whatcom County went to the Milk Makers Fest on April 21-23 at the fairgrounds. The 22nd annual festival was sponsored by Whatcom County Dairy Women.
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.
Most of those who’ve been ill were first-graders.
People who helped set up and take down the event — on April 20 and April 24 — also were among those who have been sickened. There have been secondary illnesses, too, of people who lived in the same home as someone who attended the event and became ill.
So far, 25 people have contracted lab-confirmed infections. Nine of them were secondary cases.
Ten have been hospitalized and four have developed hemolytic uremic syndrome, a life-threatening complication of E. coli illness.
Nine of those hospitalized were children and one was an adult. All were originally taken to St. Joseph hospital in Bellingham, and four were later sent to Seattle hospitals. The other patients were no longer being treated at the Bellingham hospital.
Other cases are still being investigated.
Health officials also were collecting environmental samples from the dairy barn, site of the Milk Makers Fest, for analysis.
“It’s anything that anyone would come into contact with in the day they spent at the Milk Makers Fest,” Lindquist said.
So far, four of 10 areas sampled were a match for the the E. coli strain in the outbreak.
Heath officials aren’t revealing where in the barn those matches came from, saying they didn’t want to bias those who attended the event and were still being interviewed as part of the investigation.
Whatcom County health officials originally estimated as many as 47 people were sickened, but the way cases are defined has been changed so that suspected and probable cases aren’t included.
Investigators with the state, the county and the CDC are examining potential sources of the outbreak and how to prevent it in the future.