A growing cluster of E. coli cases is being reported by a local Ohio health department

Ohio’s Wood County is experiencing a spike in E. coli cases.

The Wood County Health Department is reporting three years worth of E. coli cases that have occurred in just the past week.

Health Commissioner Ben Robison told the Wood County Board of Health on Thursday that 16 known cases of E. coli have been identified in the past week. In the past five and a half years, the county has had 27 cases of E. coli.

The health commissioner said: “We are at the earliest stages of an investigation.”

The Ohio Department of Health is testing whether there is a connection between the cases that affected Wood County residents between the ages of 13 and 60. Test results are due Tuesday.

The 15 known cases are likely just the beginning, according to Robison. “We expect that number to grow,” he said.

The health department is asking anyone in the county who thinks they have or have recently had possible symptoms of E coli to go to https://woodcountyhealth.org/health-promotion-and-preparedness/infectious-disease/ and click on “ take this survey” link in blue.

Of the 16 cases reported so far, at least five people between the ages of 21 and 60 have been hospitalized.

Wood County Health is partnering with other agencies to try to solve the puzzle of the origin of E. coli. These partners include the Ohio Department of Health and other county health departments. It may be extended to the Ohio Department of Agriculture if contact is established with food products in the early stages of cultivation or processing.

Robison explained that people sometimes believe that the last place or food they ate is the culprit when it comes to gastrointestinal issues. But the first symptoms of E. coli may not appear until 10 days after they eat the contaminated food, he said.

A board of health member reported Thursday that a relative became very ill and had to be taken to the hospital after eating at the Wood County Fair. But Robison noted that the fairgrounds may not be the problem.

Robison hopes the ODH lab results will provide vital information — such as whether the E. coli is the same strain.

“We are moving quickly, but deliberately,” he said.

Board member Bob Meaden asked if there had been any national or regional reports of contaminated produce or other foods. Robison said the health department will be looking “everywhere” for the culprit.

“We’re not going to close any doors,” Robison said.

E. coli are bacteria found in the environment, food and intestines of humans and animals. E. coli are a large and diverse group of bacteria, according to the CDC.

About E. coli infections

Anyone who has eaten any of the products involved and develops symptoms of an E. coli infection should seek medical attention and notify their doctor of possible food poisoning. Specific tests are needed to diagnose the infections that can mimic other diseases.

Symptoms of E. coli infections vary from person to person, but often include severe stomach cramps and diarrhea that is often bloody. Some patients may also have a fever. Most patients recover within five to seven days. Others may develop severely or life-threatening symptoms and complications, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

About 5 to 10 percent of diagnosed E. coli infections develop a potentially life-threatening complication of kidney failure known as hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). Symptoms of HUS include high fever, abdominal pain, feeling very tired, decreased frequency of urination, small unexplained bruising or bleeding, and paleness.

Many people with HUS recover within a few weeks, but some suffer permanent injury or death. This condition can occur in people of any age, but is most common in children under five because of their immature immune systems, older people because of weakened immune systems, and people with compromised immune systems, such as cancer patients.

People who experience symptoms of HUS should seek emergency medical attention immediately. People with HUS are likely to be hospitalized because the condition can cause other serious and ongoing problems such as hypertension, chronic kidney disease, brain damage, and neurological problems.

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