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Health officials investigating E. coli sickness

Rex Barber and Sue Guinn Legg- Staff Writers • Sep 6, 2013 at 1:35 PM

A case of E. coli sickening was reported this week to the Northeast Tennessee Regional Health Department.

Prior to this case, there were nine reported cases of E. coli sickness in this region, which includes seven counties in Northeast Tennessee except Sullivan County.

Department spokeswoman Beth Rader said the case was reported Wednesday. Officials with the state Department of Health in Nashville are investigating, she said.

Not much more information was available as of Thursday afternoon.

“(Officials in Nashville will) do an investigation to see if they can pinpoint the source,” Rader said.

Due to health information privacy laws, details about the patient who was sickened may be limited; however, if a source is determined, that should be made known, Rader said.

“But when that will be, I don’t know,” she said.

According to Regional Health Department Medical Director David Kirschke, there have been 81 E. coli cases in Tennessee so far this year. There were 82 reported cases in the state at this point last year.

Most of the cases are not publicized unless there appears to be an outbreak, Kirschke said.

“We don’t have any evidence currently of an outbreak of the disease,” he said.

He said all these cases reported appear to be sporadic. It is difficult to determine a source for such cases because E. coli is common in the environment.

As far as prevention of E. coli sickness, Kirschke did advise to avoid eating undercooked ground beef and to thoroughly wash all fresh produce before eating.

He also said to be wary of water sources that could contain agricultural runoff.

Bill Francisco, a Johnson City attorney whose 6-year-old son, Jacob, died in 2004 following an E. coli infection from an unknown source, has spent the years since his son’s death working to heighten awareness and public safeguards against of the bacteria.

Contacted about the most recent local infection Thursday, Francisco said, “Hopefully they’ll get on it and find the source so it won’t happen to anyone else.

“I’ve learned there are many sources, water, food, not washing your hands, not washing your produce. I never did learn the source that infected my son.”

Regardless of ongoing safety efforts in the local community and nationwide, Francisco said, “These things area going to happen.

“The most helpful thing you can to is get out the preventative information. Wash your produce. Cook your ground beef well done. And go to the hospital, not just to a doctor but to a hospital, if anyone is having the symptoms of stomach cramps and bloody stool.”

In memory of his son, Franciso has launched an educational campaign known as Jacob’s Project to elevate awareness of the dangers of E. coli bacteria and how to guard against it, to provide local health care providers with the latest information on the diagnosis and treatment of E. coli infection and to eliminate the bacteria from the Sinking Creek waterway that runs through Johnson City.

Information about the project can be found online at jacobfrancisco.com or may be obtained by emailing wlcisco@aol.com.

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