DAVIDSON COUNTY, N.C. — The Davidson County Health Department confirmed Monday they are now investigating reports of illness in three children possibly caused by E. coli infection.
Two Tyro Middle School students were hospitalized Friday with a recent history of severe bloody diarrhea. Both of the children have hemolytic uremic syndrome, a serious kidney complication often caused by E. coli infection.
Jen Hames with the Davidson County Health Department said because the two children have been treated with antibiotics, lab tests do not pinpoint E. coli as the source that sickened those two students. It is still the strongest possibility, she added, but it could be hard to prove because of the antibiotics.
On Monday, a case of E. coli 0157 was identified in a third child who has not been hospitalized and does not attend the same school as the two hospitalized cases. Right now the Davidson County Health Department is not releasing what school the third child attends.
"The third child is not as sick as the other two have been," Hames added.
"Our sincerest thoughts go out to these ill children and their families," said Monecia Thomas, Davidson County Health Department Health Director. "We are asking anyone in the community who has been sick during the month of December with severe or bloody diarrhea to call the Davidson County Health Department at 336-242-2300."
Tyro United Methodist Church is helping get the word out about E.Coli bacteria, which can be deadly.
Lorie Mast works at the church and helped program their electronic sign outside to warn of "severe bloody diarrhea."
"It's really sad and scary," said Mast, a mother of two teenage girls. "It's a small community and we're really in the center of it. It's really important to spread the word and help as many people as possible so there's less sickness."
Tyro mother-of-four Heather Sanders says she doesn't take any chances when encouraging her kids to wash their hands.
"Go behind them and make sure they know the proper way," she encouraged other parents.
E. coli are naturally occurring bacteria that normally live in the intestines of people and animals.
While most E. coli are harmless, the shiga-toxin producing E. coli (STEC) type identified is very infectious and can easily cause illness.
Symptoms may include acute diarrhea, including bloody diarrhea, vomiting, severe abdominal cramps and low-grade fever.
If your child or an adult in the family has the symptoms listed above, contact your medical provider and share the information in this notification with them.
Your medical provider may consider testing, especially for those vulnerable populations, such as the very young and the elderly.
Early medical attention can help minimize the severity, so it is essential that people with E. coli infection receive early medical attention.
A person who is ill with E. coli infection may transmit the disease to others.
Infectious Disease Dr. Cynthia Snider with Cone Health also warns people to beware of Influenza and Norovirus in North Carolina.
"We haven't hit the peak yet of the [flu] season although we're seeing quite a few increases in our hospital visits, our ED and urgent care centers," said Dr. Snider.
She said it's not too late to get the flu shot.
The vaccine doesn't protect against all viruses. "Norovirus is a diarrheal infection and is highly contagious," Dr. Snider explained.
All of the experts we talked to today emphasized the importance of washing your hands frequently with running water and soap.
A recent FDA announcement said hand gels and sanitizers may not be as effective as once thought, and often don't kill viruses.
Hames pointed out, "If you're not near running water, hand sanitizer is an option but as soon as you get to running water you need to still wash your hands."
A hotline has been open for anyone who may have questions about the incident in Davidson County. After 2 p.m., call 336-242-2300, select the No. 8 prompt to leave a message and someone will call you back.