GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) – E. coli cases are on the rise in West Michigan, and it’s unclear where they’re coming from.
In some cases, children were hospitalized.
So far this month, the state health department has reported 98 cases in Kent. Ottawa and Oakland counties. This is almost five times more than the same period last year.
Children are more susceptible to disease. Three children in Ottawa County were hospitalized with complications from Escherichia coli. A spokeswoman for Spectrum Health confirmed to News 8 that several children are at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital for the same kidney problems.
While E. coli cases typically increase during the summer, the health department is concerned about a large increase in August.
“It’s pretty high,” said Jim Collins, director of infectious diseases for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. “This is a signal that prompts us to look at these cases more carefully.”
Collins said many of the cases may be related, but it’s unclear how many. He also said kidney problems “can be very serious.”
Dr. Kira Sieplinga, MD, a pediatric hospitalist at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, also said hospital officials are “definitely concerned” about kidney complications.
“As a mother, and also as a doctor, until we determine the cause of the disease, be careful about the foods you give your children now,” she said.
The strain of E. coli that can cause kidney disease usually appears three to seven days after the first symptom of diarrhea, Sieplinga noted.
“Children under the age of 10 are more likely to develop kidney disease,” he said. “We don’t quite understand why.”
Still, kidney disease from E. coli is rare, he said. Common E. coli symptoms are abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and sometimes a low-grade fever.
“Most infections are mild,” Sieplinga said. Diarrhea usually subsides within five to seven days. You can often manage this at home.”
Sieplinga says parents should watch out for bloody diarrhea and dehydration. Symptoms of dehydration include decreased urine output, energy and saliva, he said.
As a precaution, he suggested washing hands, cooking meat thoroughly, washing fruits and vegetables, and avoiding cross-contamination during food preparation.
“It’s not a situation where we’re weak,” Collins added. “There are many things we can do as individuals to help reduce the impact of these infections.”
It is unclear where the E. coli outbreak originated. Health departments are racing to investigate how the outbreak began.
“We’re continuing to look at all possible sources,” Collins said. “It’s a kind of detective work. We need to interview everyone registered in our system and find out where they were in the 10 days before the infection.
According to Sieplinga, E. coli is spread by “oral or oral ingestion.”
“It’s usually through food or water,” he said. “Swimming in a lake or swimming pool where there is an infection.”
Collins said health officials don’t know if the cases are a one-off or if the disease is still present.
“It could be something that persists in the environment,” he said. “We want to make sure that this is a product on store shelves and in restaurants, we want the product to be removed as quickly as possible.”