Search continues for source of E. coli outbreak at Huntley High

In the wake of a seventh confirmed case, health officials continue to search for the source of an E. coli outbreak among students at Huntley High School.

The McHenry County Department of Health reported five cases Wednesday, a sixth on Thursday, and then the seventh Friday.

Huntley School District 158 did not respond to requests for updates Friday, but the parent of a high school student said she received a survey from the health department with a request that it be filled out by anyone who had eaten at the school.

Health department spokesman Nick Kubiak said the investigation "is very complicated, with multiple potential exposures internally and externally. We are collecting data from multiple sources to be reviewed and analyzed; therefore, no confirmed source of the outbreak has been determined at this time."

E. coli is a type of bacteria that is normally present in the gut, said Dr. Irfan Hafiz of Northwestern Medicine, who practices in Huntley, McHenry and Woodstock. Some strains of E. coli can make people sick.

The county health department and school confirmed Wednesday that the outbreak is being driven by Shiga Toxin-Producing E. coli (STEC), which Hafiz said often is the cause of E. coli outbreaks.

Signs of an E. coli illness include diarrhea and abdominal cramping.

Hafiz said its is important that those made ill stay hydrated and that anyone experiencing symptoms for more than six hours should seek medical treatment.

"They need fluids," Hafiz said. "Mainly fluids until the infection passes."

E. coli is a common reason for food recalls, Hafiz said.

"It's not every day," he said about the frequency of outbreaks. "It's not extremely rare either."

Hafiz, who said he has not treated any of the students who have contracted E. coli during this outbreak, said those who don't have symptoms should not be worried.

"If you've not had symptoms, there's no need to panic," Hafiz said, adding that symptoms usually take one to three days to appear.

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