Source of local E. coli case still a mystery

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A spokesperson for the Colorado Department of Health and Environment said Thursday that after a week of investigation the department has yet to determine how a 6-year-old Moffat County boy contracted E. coli.

"They can't figure out where he got if from" Lori Maldonado said. "His is a little more complicated a case as far as finding out where he got it from."

Maldonado said it is important for the department to know the source of the E. coli as far as tracking food-borne illnesses.

"If it is linked to ConAgra, that could be very important," she said.

Maldonado has said that as soon as the department has an indication of where the boy contracted the illness, the department would notify the public.

The department has received distribution lists from ConAgra last week and "consumer protection is looking into it."

"These lists will help a lot in finding out exactly where this meat went," Maldonado said.

At the same time state officials announced that an E. coli case had been confirmed in a 6-year-old Moffat County boy, they also announced that a 4-year-old girl from Denver County had contracted the illness, bringing the current outbreak to 22.

Pam Thompson, public relations director with The Memorial Hospital, has said the Moffat County boy wasn't diagnosed at TMH.

Maldonado said the department could not release where the child was diagnosed.

"The report could have come from any doctor's office," she said. "Our epidemiologist would know but we don't release that information for confidentiality reasons."

One month ago it was found that the outbreak of E. coli was directly linked to ground beef purchased from Colorado Safeway stores, but the manager of the local Safeway said the Craig business was not affected.

"No records of ours show (ConAgra) meat being sent to Craig, Colorado," said Chuck Sadvar, manager of the local Safeway, Thursday morning. "Nobody knows where this boy got it from."

The department will conduct interviews with the boy and his family to try and find out where the boy ate during the three days leading up to the diagnosis, Maldonado said.

"They'll do further questioning to find out how he got sick," she said. "Details will be provided if they find out where the boy ate."

The previous 20 confirmed cases of E. coli were all a result of beef processed by ConAgra Beef Company of Greeley and sold at Safeway stores in the state.

"The child from Denver County ate ground beef that was purchased at Safeway on July 13 that was part of the grocery chain's expanded recall," said Karen Dieseker, an epidemiologist with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment in a press release. "Investigations are ongoing as to where the ground beef was purchased and eaten by the second new case."

The original recall when the outbreak occurred last month included hamburger dated June 7 through June 28.

Safeway recently expanded that recall to May 12 to July 17.

Safeway urged consumers not to use the beef and to return it to the store of purchase for a refund.

State consumer protection specialists urge people to cook ground beef to 155 to 160 degrees Fahrenheit, using a food thermometer, and to check freezers for any recalled beef.

Ground beef purchased at Safeway stores with a "sell by" date of May 12 to July 17, packaged in white or yellow foam trays, should be discarded or returned to the store. Recalled beef includes 73 percent ground beef, 80 percent ground beef, 90 percent ground beef, 93 percent ground beef and ground sirloin.

State health officials are awaiting distribution information from ConAgra on the wholesale and retail outlets in Colorado to which the hamburger covered in the expanded recall was distributed.

E. coli O157:H7 can cause bloody diarrhea and intense abdominal cramps. Some individuals may develop Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome, which usually requires hospitalization. Children and the elderly are especially vulnerable, officials said.

For more information people can call the state Department of Public Health at (303) 692-2700.

Reporter Josh Nichols contributed to this report.

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