As Huntley High School reports another case of E. coli, the source of the illnesses remains a mystery

Northwestern doctor explains the infection and how it can spread

Another case of E. coli at Huntley High School was confirmed Friday, bringing the total number of students afflicted to at least seven.

Five student cases were reported Wednesday, with a sixth announced Thursday and the seventh confirmed Friday by the McHenry County Department of Health.

Huntley School District 158 did not respond to requests for updates Friday. One high school parent 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.”

But what is E. coli?

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. But some strains of E. coli can make people sick.

The county health department and Huntley High School confirmed Wednesday in a news release that the outbreak at Huntley is being driven by Shiga Toxin-Producing E. coli (STEC), which Hafiz said often is the cause of E. coli outbreaks.

“It’s a very specific type of E. coli that led to the problem,” Hafiz said about the school outbreak.

Some signs of E. coli include diarrhea and abdominal cramping.

Hafiz said that making sure E. coli patients stay hydrated is very important. Diarrhea can lead to dehydration, and he said 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 as well, 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 at Huntley High School, 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.