E coli puts two in hospital

Two children were hospitalised with E coli infections after consuming unpasteurised milk on a school trip, according to health authorities.

South Canterbury medical officer of health Dr Daniel Williams said two cases had been confirmed by the South Canterbury District Health Board, with a further two suspected, after a Waimataitai Primary School trip on Tuesday last week, with five classes visiting farms around the region.

"A class of 29 went to a farm where two-thirds drank unpasteurised milk," Williams said. "Four became unwell with diarrhoea. Two were admitted to hospital but they have been discharged. Only two of the cases have been confirmed but we are treating it as an outbreak of four out of a class of 29."

He said E coli was a toxin in the bladder which caused profuse and bloody diarrhoea.

The farm concerned was not that of Stuart and Andrea Weir, which has been at the centre of a campylobacter investigation.

Waimataitai principal Jane Culhane said it was still not confirmed the illnesses were caused by drinking raw milk.

"There are a number of illnesses circulating in Timaru schools with similar symptoms. It has not yet been proved these cases came from drinking raw milk.

"Our information suggests that two of the people that have displayed symptoms did not drink milk. In fact, one did not attend the trip."

Parents spoken to by the Herald raised concerns that no consent had been sought to drink the raw milk.

"These parents need to raise those issues with me directly," Culhane said.

"There was no consent sought for the children to drink milk. In the two known cases, the children had adults with them. We have never sought consent for the consumption of food, except where there are known allergies.

"Our school acts responsibly in regard to children and staff, and would not knowingly expose children to risk."

The school's newsletter, which went online on Wednesday, said this of the situation: "Notifiable illness: We have had one confirmed notification of campylobacter and E coli. Diarrhoea is the main symptom. It can vary from mild to severe with stomach cramps.

"Good hygiene and hand washing is essential. If your child has diarrhoea, they should not return to school until 48 hours after the last diarrhoea. If at all concerned, seek medical advice."

Williams said a complication of E coli infection was hemolytic-uremic syndrome (HUS), which 15 per cent of infected children would develop. It was a disease characterised by acute kidney failure in 50 per cent of cases and 5 per cent of those affected can die.

"If HUS develops, it can be a life-threatening situation.

"We know E coli is present in our dairy herds in South Canterbury and it does find its way into unpasteurised milk. People who do drink raw milk risk that."

The Timaru Herald