Investigation links Hildale E. coli outbreak to infected farm animals

An image of the E. coli bacteria | Stock image, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — As an investigation into an E. coli outbreak in Hildale and surrounding communities draws to a close, health officials announced Friday that the likely source of the disease was infected farm animals and that no new cases have been reported since July 9.

The Southwest Utah Public Health Department said several livestock in Hildale tested positive for the bacterial disease, which spread further via person-to-person contact.

“Of the 12 cases we had, it spread not only in the original household in Hildale but into the Colorado City area and into the Centennial Park area,” health department spokesman David Heaton told St. George News Friday. “It stayed within those three towns, but we did have some spread of cases, but they all, in some way, are all related to this outbreak.”

The outbreak’s particular strain of E. coli is known to cause kidney failure and led to the deaths of two children in late June. Most of the other cases were also children.

Read more: 2 Hildale children die following E. coli outbreak

The extensive investigation also included tests on water systems, springs, ground beef, produce and dairy products, which all tested negative for the disease.

The health department declined to specify exactly what kind of animal was originally infected beyond saying it was livestock.

“We’re not getting more specific than that at this point other than to say they are contained and their owners are instructed on how to keep the disease from spreading,” Heaton said.

Although no new cases have been reported since July 9, health officials will continue to monitor disease activity in the community.

“We appreciate the cooperation of the people of Hildale, Colorado City (Arizona) and Centennial Park with the investigation and their efforts to protect against future outbreaks,” a news release issued by the health department states. “Disease outbreaks are unpredictable and can occur in any community.”

This five-agency investigation into the outbreak included help from Southwest Utah Public Health Department, Mohave County Department of Public Health in Arizona, Utah Department of Health, Arizona Department of Health Services and the Centers for Disease Control.

Prevention information

E. coli are common bacteria which can be spread to people when tiny pieces of feces enter the mouth through unwashed hands, contaminated soil, water and food. Undercooked ground beef and unpasteurized dairy products are especially high risk. Infected animals and manure are also sources of infection. Most types of E. coli are harmless, but some strains are harmful to humans, such as the strain found in this outbreak.

Health officials encourage the following practices to help prevent infection from E. coli and other diseases:

  • Keep sick animals separated from people and consider consulting a veterinarian.
  • Wash your hands with warm, soapy water:
    • After contact with animals or exposure to animal feces.
    • Before and after preparing or eating food.
    • After using the bathroom and changing diapers.
    • Before touching anything that enters an infant’s mouth.
  • Wash produce thoroughly.
  • Keep raw food separate from cooked food.
  • Carefully clean all surfaces and objects that have touched raw meat.
  • Cook meats thoroughly. Ground beef should be cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees (use a meat thermometer).


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