Six students at Huntley High School have been sickened with E. coli, up from the five confirmed earlier Thursday by Principal Marcus Belin, as officials continued to monitor for more potential cases and hunt for the source of the outbreak.
Parents were informed of the additional case through an email from school administrators on Thursday afternoon.
The first case was identified on Sunday, according to a joint news release from the McHenry County Department of Health and Huntley School District 158, and parents were first notified on Wednesday when the case count reached five.
“At this time, there is insufficient evidence to indicate the source of the illness. The MCDH is actively monitoring for potential cases; there are no other known McHenry County (E. coli) cases outside of this outbreak,” according to a Thursday news release.
The release added that Huntley High officials “are fully cooperating with the MCDH as they continue their investigation into potential exposures, both internally and externally, as the source of the outbreak has not yet been identified.”
More students may be affected at the school, which is celebrating its homecoming this week.
One Huntley High parent, Katie Butzow, said her daughter, a senior, became ill Friday with the symptoms described in the school district email.
“Sunday (she) started vomiting and couldn’t keep any food down so we took her to the (doctor) Monday,” Butzow said in a Facebook message. Severe diarrhea is also a common symptom.
Anti-nausea medications helped her daughter, Butzow said, adding she received a call from the health department on Tuesday as a part of contact tracing. In her daughter’s case, E. coli was never confirmed by testing, she said.
“I am convinced that there will be more (cases). I hope as parents get the information, they let the school know if their child has symptoms so they can help the health department trace the source,” Butzow said.
The first email to parents, send out about 11 a.m. Wednesday, identified the infection as coming from Shiga Toxin-Producing E. coli (STEC).
According to information shared with parents in the email, STEC can have an incubation period of two to seven days, and symptoms include diarrhea that is often bloody, vomiting, nausea, abdominal cramps, fever and body aches typically lasting 5 to 10 days.
The bacteria can be spread by:
- Eating foods that are contaminated with feces from an infected animal and from environmental contamination and cross-contamination in a kitchen, or eating foods that were prepared by someone who has contracted STEC.
- Swallowing water while swimming or drinking water contaminated with STEC bacteria.
- Person-to-person transmission where the bacteria passes from the stool or soiled fingers of one person to the mouth of another person either through food handling or direct contact.
- Animal contact, by touching or handling animals and/or their environment.
Officials asked parents to keep students home fro school “until symptom free for 48 hours.”
The school also advised parents to seek medical care if their child develops symptoms and to inform the doctor about the school’s current outbreak.
Frequent hand-washing and practicing food safety habits were encouraged by officials to help prevent more cases.
Huntley High science teachers are also providing students with information about E. coli, according to the release.
“Furthermore, the school has taken proactive measures to ensure a safe environment, including the posting of handwashing signage throughout the school and the provision of readily accessible hand sanitizer stations in all classrooms and common areas,” the release states.
Tracking down new cases is “very fluid and complicated,” health department Community Information Coordinator Nick Kubiak wrote in a emailed response to questions. “The investigation involves interviewing and surveying ill and well individuals with similar or common exposures to identify the source of the illness.”
The six known cases have been confirmed through fecal testing, he said.
“To identify potential cases at this point in the investigation is complicated, as there are many sources and linkages for gastrointestinal illnesses. All gastrointestinal illnesses are being investigated to determine if they are associated with this outbreak,” Kubiak wrote.
Asked whether affected students know each other, share classes or have other connections, Kubiak said potential common exposures are being looked into but that, as of Thursday afternoon, there were “not enough data ... to draw any preliminary or final conclusions.”