Three children from a downtown day-care center have been diagnosed with E. coli, a dangerous intestinal bacterium that killed three people in the state during an epidemic in 1993.
One of the children, who is 18 months old, is in critical condition in a local hospital, said Dr. Kim Thorburn, health officer for the Spokane Regional Health District.
Two more children in the county have been diagnosed with E. coli, bringing the total to five, but they didn’t attend day care at the YMCA. However, one is a cousin of a sick child from the Y, Thorburn said.
“That case is definitely linked,” said Thorburn, who would not identify any of the children.
None of the other children has been hospitalized. The oldest is 6 years old.
On Monday, the district examined the Downtown Spokane YMCA Early Childhood Center after learning three children there were diagnosed with E. coli 0157:H7. The YMCA cares for approximately 165 children ranging in age from 6 weeks to 5 years old.
“We are in the midst of an investigation right now,” Thorburn said. “(Currently), there is nothing indicating a need to close the day care or any of its facilities.”
The district hopes to have a clearer picture of the outbreak by Wednesday, after getting lab results from samples taken at the day care facility, Thorburn said.
The last day any of the three children attended the center was Feb. 13, said Rich Wallis, the YMCA’s executive director.
Spread orally from feces, E. coli can cause cramps, diarrhea and in a third of the cases, a fever.
Its most severe complication is hemolytic uremic syndrome, which causes blood cells to break and kidneys to fail, and can lead to death. It can be spread through food, water, diapers or toys.
In 1997, Spokane County had 10 reported cases of the illness.
After informing parents of the illness by letter Friday night, the YMCA started washing toys daily instead of weekly, had the center’s carpets cleaned and removed any toys or pillows that couldn’t be washed, Wallis said.
Staff members have always been required to wear rubber gloves when changing diapers - both the gloves and the diapers are put in plastic bags and disposed of afterward - and disinfect the diaper-changing table after each use, Wallis said.
“We are taking every precaution we can, if nothing else for the peace of mind of the parents,” Wallis said.
On Monday, there was no drop in the number of children attending the day care facility, he said.
“The message we are trying to get to parents is if their child is showing any symptoms, they should be taken to a physician and checked out,” he said.
In 1993, more than 600 people in Washington were sickened and three children died from eating Jack in the Box hamburgers contaminated with E. coli. 0157:H7.
That was followed in 1996 by more than 50 people becoming sick from E. coli in unpasteurized apple juice made by Odwalla, one of the nation’s largest fruit-juice producers.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Graphic: What is E. coli?