Investigators looking into an outbreak of E. coli among eight children in the Evergreen area said Friday that the illnesses may be linked to elk droppings.Specimens obtained from elk droppings in the mountain region have tested positive for the same strain of E. coli O157 bacteria that was identified in the children, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said.The children who have been sickened are between 4 and 12 years old.Of the eight cases, six are children in Jefferson County, one in Clear Creek County and one in Park County. The children's illness were reported sporadically throughout the summer and early fall, beginning in July and most recently in late October, the state health department said."This is a highly unusual situation, and public health officials are continuing to investigate how the elk in the area may have been exposed. We want to caution the public to take precautions by maintaining good hygiene," said Gayle L. Miller, senior epidemiologist with the Jefferson County Department of Health and Environment.Most of the ill children had exposure to elk droppings while playing outdoors at parks or around their homes, Miller said.Health officials want to remind parents of a few simple things they can do following outdoor activities to prevent E. coli O157 infections.Health officials suggest adults and children:
Wash hands thoroughly (preferably with soap and water) after outdoor or recreational time and especially before touching and consuming food. Parents should make sure children do this as well. In outdoor and sports settings, parents and organizers should thoroughly cleanse items that may come in contact with children's mouths, such as water bottles, food and mouth guards. Also, make sure hands are clean before handling or using such items. Parents and team staff should ensure that children remove excessive surface grime from hands, preferably with a soap-and-water scrub or hand sanitizers, before eating, especially during or after playing sports outdoors. Residents of mountain communities heavily populated by deer and elk should clean shoes and boots before entering their homes and wash hands thoroughly after doing so.E. coli 0157 can cause bloody diarrhea and intense abdominal cramps.Some cases may develop into hemolytic uremic syndrome, which usually requires hospitalization, health officials said.Children and the elderly are especially vulnerable to E. coli.People who develop severe diarrhea, abdominal cramping and/or blood in their stool should seek medical attention. Parents are advised to refrain from using medications to treat diarrhea because in some cases it could cause more problems.State and local health officials continue to investigate the E. coli outbreak.Authorities with the local public schools and parks and recreation departments have been informed, the state said.As part of the epidemiological investigation, scientists will survey residents in the Evergreen area, Miller said.