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JAMA. 2003 Nov 26;290(20):2709-12.

An outbreak of Escherichia coli O157 infection following exposure to a contaminated building.

Author information

  • 1Foodborne and Diarrheal Diseases Branch, Division of Bacterial and Mycotic Diseases, National Center for Infectious Diseases, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, Ga., USA. jvarma@cdc.gov

Abstract

CONTEXT:

Infection with Escherichia coli O157 causes an estimated 70 000 diarrheal illnesses per year in the United States and can result in hemolytic-uremic syndrome and death. Environmental contamination with E coli O157 may be a public health problem.

OBJECTIVES:

To determine risk factors for E coli O157 infection during an outbreak investigation at a county fair and to evaluate environmental contamination as a possible cause of the outbreak.

DESIGN, SETTING, AND PARTICIPANTS:

Case-control study of 23 patients (median age, 15 years) and 53 age-matched controls who had attended the Lorain County, Ohio, fair between August 20 and August 26, 2001. Case-patients had laboratory-confirmed E coli O157 infection, hemolytic-uremic syndrome, or bloody diarrhea within 7 days of attending the fair; controls attended the fair and did not have diarrhea.

MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES:

Risk factors for infection and isolates of E coli O157 from environmental specimens.

RESULTS:

Six (26%) case-patients were hospitalized and 2 (9%) developed hemolytic-uremic syndrome. Case-patients were more likely than controls to have visited building A (a multipurpose community facility on the fairgrounds; matched odds ratio [MOR], 21.4 [95% confidence interval [CI], 2.7-170.7]). Among visitors to building A, illness was independently associated with attending a dance in the building (MOR, 7.5; 95% CI, 1.4-41.2), handling sawdust from the floor (MOR, 4.6; 95% CI, 1.1-20.0), or eating and/or drinking in the building (MOR, 4.5; 95% CI, 1.2-16.6). Twenty-four (44%) of 54 specimens collected from building A 6 weeks after the fair grew Shiga toxin-producing E coli O157. Isolates from sawdust, the rafters, and other surfaces were identical by molecular fingerprinting to patient isolates. Sawdust specimens collected 42 weeks after the fair also grew the same E coli O157 strain.

CONCLUSIONS:

Absence of evidence implicating specific food or beverage sources and the recovery of E coli O157 from the rafters suggest that airborne dispersion of bacteria contributed to the contamination. Because E coli O157 can survive in the environment for more than 10 months, humans may be at risk of infection long after an environment is initially contaminated.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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