E. Coli sickens 14 this week in St. Louis area

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Health officials are trying to determine the cause of an outbreak of E. coli in St. Louis County that has sickened 14 people this week.

All of the cases of the food borne illness have been reported since Tuesday, and the St. Louis County health department is trying to find the outbreak's source, department spokesman John Shelton said Thursday. The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services is assisting.

Shelton said the victims range in age from 4 to 94 and live in various areas of the county. No one has died, and Shelton wasn't sure if anyone had been hospitalized.

"E. coli is a very serious disease that can be life-threatening," county health director Dr. Dolores Gunn said. "Parents should be particularly vigilant if their children have bloody diarrhea." She said children with bloody diarrhea should be taken to an emergency room. State health officials said anyone with gastrointestinal symptoms, including severe stomach cramps, diarrhea or nausea, should seek medical attention.

E. coli are a group of bacteria that can cause diarrhea, urinary tract infections, respiratory illness and pneumonia. The illness is typically spread through consumption of contaminated food, unpasteurized milk, contaminated water or contact with the feces of infected people.

State health department spokeswoman Jacqueline Lapine said specimens are being tested for E. coli at the Missouri State Public Health Laboratory. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been informed of the outbreak.

County health officials encouraged three steps aimed at reducing the risk of E. coli exposure: Wash hand thoroughly after using the bathroom or changing diapers, and before preparing or eating food; cook meats thoroughly; and thoroughly wash hands, counters, cutting boards and utensils after they touch raw meat.

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