The Public Eye

Reports from the Bee's investigative team

July 26, 2010
Kids most vulnerable in E. Coli outbreaks

PK_LETTUCE 0128.JPGIf history is any lesson, the state's latest round of contaminated food products will hit one population the hardest: Kids under 5.

A study by the California Department of Public Health shows that the rate of E. coli infection cases in 2008 was at least 12 times higher in children ages 1 to 4 than in adults 25 and 54.The study, which analyzed Escherichia coli outbreaks between 2001 and 2008, found that children in that age group were consistently more susceptible to the bacteria.

The rate of E. coli infection in young children averaged about 3.3 cases per 100,000 population in the eight-year span, compared with an average rate of only about 0.2 cases in adults 25 to 54, the data shows. Among all adults, the rate of infection was higher in those over 65.

Most people infected with E. coli develop diarrhea and abdominal cramps after swallowing the organism, but serious complications - including a form of kidney failure -- are most common in children under 5 and the elderly, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The health department has not announced any serious illnesses or deaths in California from the contaminated romaine lettuce that was recalled earlier this month. The product was packaged by Fresh Express and distributed to retailers in 19 states.

Here are links to a state health fact sheet on E. Coli and the federal CDC site where outbreaks are announced and analyzed.

- Marjie Lundstrom

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