Officials: 11 days between diagnoses of day care E. coli

Jun 10, 2015, 9:38 AM

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina health officials thought they had just an isolated case of a dangerous strain of E. coli for 11 days until a second case emerged in an outbreak that would eventually cause eight people to become ill, including a 2-year-old boy who died.

Health investigators were almost immediately able to link the second case back to a Greenwood day care and urged testing of all employees and children at The Learning Vine, said state Epidemiologist Dr. Linda Bell of the Department of Health and Environmental Control.

South Carolina typically sees just a few isolated cases of the dangerous bacteria each year.

“We investigate every report of this kind of E. coli by conducting an interview,” Bell said Wednesday. “It’s a five- or six-page questionnaire about what all you’ve eaten since before you got sick and whether you’ve been somewhere like a state fair.”

The bacteria can cause vomiting and severe diarrhea.

Scientists may never know the origin of the bacteria, but it likely spread from person to person through human waste instead of through food, DHEC said.

The day care was inspected last week and cited for a dozen violations, including problems with restrooms, diaper changing, sanitation and food safety, according to the Department of Social Services’ website. The day care had no violations reported for the previous three years.

The outbreak appears to be isolated to only the day care center. No additional cases have been discovered since Monday, Bell said.

A laboratory reported the first case to the agency on May 18, and health officials immediately contacted the infected person. That person last reported symptoms May 11.

DHEC checked across the state and saw no other cases until May 29, when a child in Greenwood was diagnosed with a disease that damages red blood cells that clog the kidneys that can be caused by an E. coli infection. An investigator questioned people in the case and noted they both were linked to the Greenwood day care, Bell said.

Letters were then given to every child and employee at the day care, saying they couldn’t return until they were tested for E. coli, Bell said.

The Learning Vine remained open the rest of last week before the DHEC ordered it closed until it can assure the facility is cleaned to federal standards to kill the bacteria.

No one answered the phone Wednesday at the center. Its owner Cindy Ray issued a statement Monday saying she and her employees started working with health officials as soon as they heard about the illnesses.

“The Learning Vine has gone beyond what has been asked by DHEC as far as sanitizing the entire facility and notifying families,” Ray said in the statement.

The statement said Ray was heartbroken by the boy’s death, apologized several times and thanked parents for their thoughts and prayers.


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Officials: 11 days between diagnoses of day care E. coli