Waukesha, Wis. E. Coli Outbreak

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Thursday November 2 1:02 PM ET Two Kids in Intensive Care in U.S. E. Coli Outbreak

WAUKESHA, Wis. (Reuters) - Two children sickened in an E. coli outbreak at a school last week were in intensive care on Thursday with a serious kidney ailment caused by the infection, which investigators have been unable to trace.

An estimated 24 pupils aged 5 through 9 at Bethesda Elementary School fell ill because of the bacteria, which officials say may have been transmitted by contaminated cafeteria food or by an unidentified infected child or adult.

But one girl and two boys remained in the hospital on Thursday suffering from hemolytic uremic syndrome, a kidney ailment often associated with E. coli 0157:H7.

Two of the children had been moved into the intensive care ward, said Peter Schuler, director of Waukesha County's department of health and human services. He did not say which two were in intensive care.

None of the other 21 children who originally fell ill remain hospitalized.

Meanwhile, officials continued the work of trying to determine the source of the infection. Schuler said that a person with an active E. coli 0157:H7 infection could have touched food served in the school's hot lunch program or handled a utensil used to serve food.

But tests conducted at school cafeterias at Bethesda and at nearby Waukesha West High School, where meals were prepared, have yet to turn up the source of the bacteria.

It is also possible the bacteria was spread through the school's drinking fountains, Schuler said, though the city's water supply was tested and found safe.

He said several sources had been ruled out, including apples served at a concert, ice cream provided at a school event and classroom pets.

There are hundreds of strains of E. coli, a bacteria that lives in the digestive tract of healthy people. Most strains are harmless.

But other strains of the bacteria sicken 73,000 people a year in the United States. It can be spread by consuming undercooked beef or hamburger, contaminated fruit and vegetables or unpasteurized milk or apple cider.

Six people in Walkerton, Ontario, died in an E. coli outbreak earlier this year linked to the Canadian town's water supply. A 3-year-old girl died in an outbreak this year tied to two Milwaukee, Wisconsin, restaurants.

-- Rachel Gibson (rgibson@hotmail.com), November 02, 2000

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