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Food safety attorney meets with East TN families affected by E.Coli outbreak

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) - An attorney for Marler Clark, a Seattle based law firm that focuses on food safety law, says he met with a few East Tennessee families whose children contracted E. Coli.

Drew Falkenstein, who is an attorney for the firm and is based out of Louisville, Kentucky, says he made the trip to Knoxville, Friday morning.

" (It's a) very difficult situation.  Not a whole lot that I can share about the kids of the families I met with, other than they’re still in the hospital.  I’m hoping we all get some additional details on the outbreak next week," said Falkenstein.

An investigation into an E. coli outbreak in East Tennessee is underway after the Knox County Health Department reports more than 10 children became sick from the bacteria. The health department said cases are likely associated with the consumption of raw milk and contact with farm animals.

The health department said the majority of the sick children drank milk from a local cow-share dairy, French Broad Farm. Several other cases reported attending A Kids Place, Inc., a daycare in Mascot, Tenn. 

"We're sampling places where the animals sleep and poop and things and sending that for testing," said Martha Buchanan, the Knox County Health Department Director. We're also sampling things inside incase somebody brought he bacteria inside and that's how a kid got exposed to it."

According to the Knox County Health Department, they received a report from A Kids Place, Inc. about a child who might have E. coli. Over the next few days, the health department began receiving reports from labs and doctor's offices about children with E. coli.

"Sometime last week we got a phone call from the daycare saying that they had been advised by a parent that their child had e.coli and they knew to call us and they called us," said Buchanan. "We started our job on our end and finding that lab result and confirming that and getting the history from that family and we continued after that and saw more lab result cases coming in to us."

Dr. Joe Childs, the Chief Medical Officer at Children's Hospital, said Tuesday that four children were in serious condition in the hospital's intensive care unit. He added the hospital had treated close to 10 children for E. coli in the last ten days, saying this is the largest outbreak he had seen in the last 30 years. 

A fifth child was admitted to the hospital late Wednesday. The original four children are under the age of 4, according to a hospital spokesperson.

On Friday, it was announced a sixth patient was admitted to Children's Hospital and is in good condition, according to a hospital spokesperson.

A Children's Hospital spokesperson said the five of the six children currently in the hospital are believed to have consumed raw milk tainted with E. coli. The sixth patient was exposed to E. coli bacteria at the daycare. 

Children sickened after consuming raw milk

The Knox County Health Department said the children who got sick from raw milk drank milk from the French Broad Farm in Knoxville, a cow-share dairy. KCHD advised the public not to drink raw milk or other unpasteurized products from the farm and should dispose of all raw milk and unpasteurized products they may have from the farm.

We spoke to someone at the farm. They said they had no comment.

The health department said the farm is not currently distributing milk and dairy samples are being tested.

Read more: What you need to know about E. coli

E.coli reported at Knox County daycare

On Wednesday, the health department said some of the sick children were exposed to E. coli at a daycare facility when they came into contact with farm animals at the facility. 

The Tennessee Department of Human Services announced Thursday afternoon they ordered Kids Place Inc. on Millertown Pike in Mascot to close on Tuesday because of the outbreak. Daycare administrators say they hope to reopen on Monday and are notifying parents of the state's decision.

In a statement Thursday, Kids Place said a child was sent home sick last week. Administrators later learned the child was diagnosed with an E. coli infection. 

"Kids Place quickly notified all parents; contacted the Knox County Health Department; disinfected classrooms and common areas; installed a new outdoor surface; and closed the Baby House for toddlers," said the daycare in a statement.

DHS said later on Thursday that the center had not closed the entire facility as instructed by the department. DHS representatives informed the center that no child care operations are to occur anywhere on the property and the owners are now in compliance.

However, on Friday, a DHS spokesperson said they aren't certain why the daycare didn't close Tuesday when the department's decision was made. DHS is investigating to see if anyone from their department ever contacted the daycare owners. 

Kids Place Inc. Millertown Child Care Center will not be allowed to reopen until the Knox County Health Department provides written documentation that the center is clear and free of E-coli or any other pathogen that may be present.    

Most parents picking up their kids on Thursday were not concerned. They praised the facility and its staff.

"E. coli is on your gym equipment at the gym. It's on Walmart shopping carts. If you stick you bananas where tha babies' sit with the diaper, it is not that concerning to me," said Cynthia Pettit, mom.

Three other children were identified as having an E. coli infection, according to the daycare, but none of them required hospitalization.

Daycare administrators said they have dogs, goats and ducks contained on the property and are having agricultural experts examine the animals.

Where does E. coli come from?

"E. coli can come from undercooked meat, inadequately washed vegetables and fruit or raw milk," Childs said. "Sometimes it can pass from person to person if there isn't good hand washing."

Childs said the consumption of raw milk is not recommended by the FDA and suggests not consuming raw dairy products. It is legal in Tennessee to buy raw milk. 

There is minimal risk of contracting E. coli from treated water that is chlorinated, like in fountains or pools, but there is a risk for contracting the illness in ponds or lakes.

Childs said diarrhea is common in lots of childhood illnesses, but said that if the amount of stool children are passing seems excessive, or you aren't able to keep up with their fluid intake, you should contact your child's doctor. You should also watch for blood in your child's stool or if your child isn't acting normally.

The health department says the only similarities they can confirm are that the cases are occurring at the same time. The department is looking into other possible connections. 

Kathleen Killen with the Knox County Health Department confirms that the department is currently investigating two potential sources associated with raw milk and exposure to animals. 

Killen says it's possible for 1,800 E. coli bacteria to fit on the head of a pin at one time but it only takes about 10 to make someone sick. 

The department reports on average there are 19 cases of E. coli reported every year. 

Dr. Martha Buchanan with the health department says symptoms of E. coli can be serious. 

"The diarrhea is watery, and bloody. Sometimes people have fever, sometimes people have vomiting. But mostly people have just crampy, watery, bloody diarrhea. And it can get much more serious than that," said Buchanan. 

Buchanan says serious E. coli cases could lead to kidney failure. 

To prevent E. coli, Buchanan says hygiene and proper food preparation are key. Including washing hands, cooking food properly, and knowing food sources. 

Children and the elderly are at greatest risk for severe illness or death from E.coli infection. For more information, visit www.cdc.gov or www.tn.gov/health.


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