MAQUOKETA, Iowa — Several Maquoketa children are receiving care at University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital in Iowa City after developing serious complications from E. coli.
But local health officials have not yet identified the source.
Multiple Maquoketa children developed hemolytic uremic syndrome, prompting the treatment in Iowa City. HUS is a serious complication that can be caused by shiga toxin-producing E. coli, also known as STEC.
The Jackson County Health Department, through Genesis VNA, is working to determine what might have caused the outbreak. Community Health Manager Michele Cullen said Monday that this process involves contact tracing, but a source has not yet been identified.
Two-year-old Calvin “Cal” Notz is one of the children suffering from the rare and serious illness.
His mother, Nichole Notz, said it started on May 21, when Cal was tired and wouldn’t eat. By May 23, more concerning symptoms had emerged, including bloody and loose stools.
“That’s when we knew it was something more than just a little bug,” Notz said.
Cal’s parents took him to urgent care, where he was quickly sent to the hospital. On May 25, Cal was transferred to the Iowa City hospital for more specialized care. Cal suffered from seizures and a stroke and was placed in a medically induced coma, Notz said.
“He is improving at this point now,” Notz said Monday. “He is coming off the coma. ... Today, he is doing well.”
Pediatric epidemiologist Dr. Melanie Wellington is an infectious-disease specialist at University of Iowa Health Care. Though she could not share specifics related to the Maquoketa children or their illnesses, she did share some information about gastrointestinal illness and STEC infections.
“Most E. coli are good for us, but this particular one can (cause illness),” Wellington said.
The STEC infection can cause diarrhea, stomach cramps and vomiting. According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only 5% to 10% of people with STEC infections develop HUS. The syndrome impacts kidney function.
For those who experience symptoms beyond what is expected of a stomach flu or food poisoning, Wellington recommends consulting with a primary care physician.
HUS symptoms include dark-colored urine, increased fever, abdominal pain and headache, Wellington said.
She also recommends that individuals cooperate with local health department contact tracing to help health officials limit exposure. STEC outbreaks can be caused by contaminated food, unpasteurized milk, infected water or contact with cattle or the feces of infected people.
Wellington said the best preventative measures include hygiene and food safety. This includes washing hands while preparing food or eating, keeping surfaces clean and ensuring all food is properly cooked.
Notz knows of two other Maquoketa children receiving treatment at the same hospital for HUS. She said the families have received tremendous support from the Maquoketa community.
“Our community is amazing,” Notz said. “To say supportive is a complete understatement. ... It’s overwhelming how our community is wrapping their arms around us.”