IDPH 125th


In September 1999, state public health laboratory technicians, using a sophisticated genetic testing technology for the first time in Illinois, were able to positively pinpoint beef served at a Labor Day party in Menard County as the source of an E. coli 0157:H7 outbreak that sickened more than 300 people.

The so-called “fingerprinting” of the bacteria was performed at the Department’s Chicago laboratory, where technicians were able to match the DNA makeup of the E. coli 0157:H7 found in the beef served at the party with that found in stool samples taken from infected persons. Lab personnel also were able to match the E. coli found in cow manure collected from the farm where the party was held with the bacteria in the human stool samples. This suggested that the cow slaughtered for the party, as well as other cows in the same herd, were infected with the specific E. coli that made people ill.

A total of 329 persons from three states – Illinois, Kentucky and Missouri – reported illness after attending the Sept. 4 party, which was held in a cow pasture near Petersburg; 22 required hospitalization. In Illinois, the ill came from 12 counties: Christian, Cook, Kane, Logan, Macon, Macoupin, Mason, McLean, Menard, Sangamon, Tazewell and Woodford.

E. coli 0157:H7 can cause severe, bloody diarrhea and painful abdominal cramps in some people, but others show few or no symptoms. In some persons, particularly children younger than 5 years of age and the elderly, the infection can lead to hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), which can result in stroke, seizures and death. No cases of HUS were associated with this outbreak.

The organism is found in the intestines and fecal waste of cattle and, when the animals are slaughtered, intestinal contents can contaminate the meat. These bacteria can survive unless the meat is thoroughly cooked.

The bacteria is present in the stools of infected persons and can be passed from one person to another if hygiene and hand washing habits are inadequate.

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