Cases of E.Coli in Kentucky more than doubled since Friday as health officials continue to investigate the source of the outbreak.
There were 20 cases reported as of Friday afternoon and the number has risen to 44 as of Wednesday afternoon, according to state health officials. So far six people have been hospitalized.
Dr. Mel Bennett heads the state's infectious disease efforts. Dr. Bennett said the outbreak has spread to Tennessee, Ohio, and Georgia. State health officials are in daily contact with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Doug Hogan, spokesperson for the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services, said cases are spread across several counties. Five cases have been confirmed in Fayette County.
Some sort of food distribution service may be the root cause. But, he said, it is not unheard of for a source to remain unconfirmed.
Dr. Bennett said some early reports indicated fast food as a primary source of concern. But, he said, that has been narrowed down to beef, chicken and sliced American cheese. There are currently 20 additional cases yet to be confirmed within Kentucky.
Hogan said it can take two to three weeks between the time someone gets sick and public health officials detect the illness. Narrowing down a source requires an interview with each patient that can last 45 minutes to an hour.
The disease is often mild but has the potential to be deadly to small children and people with other chronic diseases. So far, six people have been hospitalized in Kentucky.
Bennett said people within his department are working nights and weekends to track the spread of the disease.
Here are the best ways to prevent the disease.
- Washing hands frequently for at least 20 seconds with soap and warm water, especially before eating, after going to the bathroom, handling raw meat and eggs, and after handling or petting animals.
- Thoroughly washing produce before eating;
- Thoroughly cooking meat;
- Cleaning and sanitizing food preparation areas;
- Avoiding swallowing lake or pool water;
- Drinking only pasteurized milk;
- ·Frequently cleaning and sanitizing restrooms, including doorknobs and faucets; and
- Reporting diarrheal illnesses to your physician.
Such outbreaks of this particular strain of the disease are rare. According to CDC data with 44 cases in Kentucky alone, this outbreak is the largest since 2000.
Click here to see how the CDC tracks outbreaks.