- Associated Press - Thursday, June 4, 2015

LYNDEN, Wash. (AP) - The strain of E. coli bacteria that sickened people at the Milk Makers Fest in Lynden, Washington, in April has been found in areas of the dairy barn where the event took place, a Whatcom County Health Department report says.

Environmental contamination with E. coli O157:H7 is the likely source of the outbreak that sickened 25 people, most of them children, according to the report released Wednesday. Of those, 10 people were hospitalized and six developed a type of kidney failure. No one died.

In nine of the cases, the ill person didn’t attend the April 21-23 event at a fairgrounds site but had close contact with someone who did.

“The bottom line here is we can’t expect an environment like a barn to ever be completely free of pathogenic bacteria,” the Health Department’s environmental health supervisor, Tom Kunesh, told the Bellingham Herald (https://is.gd/AvZHXW ).

The state Health Department and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention helped in the investigation.

More than 1,300 county school children, accompanied by teachers and parents, attended the annual event designed to introduce young students to farming.

The outbreak strain of the bacteria was found in a manure bunker, a hay maze area and two sets of bleachers in the dairy barn. The report said the area likely was contaminated before the event.

Health officials say preliminary findings from interviews indicate that people who reported washing or sanitizing their hands before eating lunch were less likely to become ill. Also, eating in animal areas might have contributed to an increased risk of transmission.

Kunesh said the investigation indicated the event was run “largely as it has been run in the past.”

E. coli illness symptoms include severe stomach cramps, often-bloody diarrhea and vomiting.

Kim Vlas, an officer with the Whatcom County Dairy Women that sponsored the event, said the group was glad the findings were out but members’ thoughts were on the affected families.

“We’re grateful that the source appears to have been identified. Our group is really focused on the families here still. We don’t want to lose sight of that,” Vlas said.

“It’s all about the environment and how do to you try and minimize the exposure that kids have,” said Dr. Scott Lindquist, the Washington state epidemiologist for communicable diseases. “This could’ve happened to any event around the state of Washington.”

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