E. coli outbreak on Kenai Peninsula

Posted: Friday, July 21, 2000

KENAI (AP) -- At least five people have been stricken with the E. coli bacterial infection on the Kenai Peninsula, and five more cases are suspected. Public health authorities are looking to see if there is a connection between the people affected so the spread of the disease can be stopped.

Dr. Michael Beller, epidemiologist with the state Division of Epidemiology in Anchorage, said there have been five cases confirmed through laboratory tests, while another five cases are suspected. The people became ill between July 11 and Monday, he said.

Marty Richman, director of Central Peninsula General Hospital in Soldotna, said three people had been hospitalized there because of the infection.

Of the three, two were from Sterling and one from Kenai. One of them, a 26-year-old man, recovered and was discharged. The other two, a 70-year-old woman and a 57-year-old man, are in stable condition.

The 10 confirmed and suspected cases include two people from Soldotna, two from Kenai, three from Sterling and one from Anchorage. Beller did not know the hometowns of the two others. Ages range from 5 to 74.

It is not known if the 10 people had any connection with each other, such as eating at the same restaurant or shopping at the same grocery store.

''That's what we're working on right now,'' Beller said.

The current clustered outbreak is only the second Beller can remember in Alaska in the last 10 years. Generally, the state has fewer than a dozen individual cases reported each year, he said.

Beller said this strain of the disease involved in the five confirmed cases is known as Escherichia coli O157:H7. There are many other strains, some harmful to humans, others not. The human gastrointestinal tract always has E. coli in it, but not usually a dangerous strain, Beller said. E. coli O157:H7 was first identified in hamburgers in 1982.

There are a reported 73,000 cases of infection and an average of 61 deaths from E. coli in the United States each year.

Though cases started showing up over a week ago, the state didn't issue a public health alert until Wednesday afternoon because of the length of time it took to confirm an outbreak.

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