June 10, 2015 –One of the reasons I began writing this blog was that I was moved to honor the memory of a young child named “E. J.” who died from an E. Coli infection. He was only about eight years old. He may have eaten a contaminated hamburger–maybe that could have caused the problem, no one seemed to know. They took him to the emergency room of the local hospital, but his diarrhea persisted and his parents really did not know what to do. Maybe they thought it would just go away given time? E.J. died in the bathroom shower one night. His feces had completely soaked the living room couch and he was apparently attempting to bathe himself. E.J.’s death–and the very little publicity it received– really stung my heart. I was soon to learn that he lived only a mile away– if only someone had asked, “Please care for my child while I take a break?” I didn’t know them, they certainly didn’t know there was anyone willing to do that.
Now, at least 8 years later there is another flare up of E. Coli: Eight E. Coli cases have been linked to a Daycare facility in South Carolina according to Food Safety News, today. One child, a two-year old, died on May 31, 2015–other individuals have been hospitalized. The daycare facility has been closed temporarily and has been cleaned twice. People are still trying to find the source of the E. Coli infection.
All of this said, there are ways to reduce the ability for E. Coli to kill children, the elderly and infirm, those with compromised immune systems, and the rest of us. And one important way, first and foremost, is to make sure people wash their hands. Especially people who interact with others in a personal way, i.e., caregivers, family members, baby-sitters, daycare employees and staff, wait staff and food preparers in restaurants, teachers, medical professionals, just about everyone, needs to wash their hands several times a day, especially and always after going to the bathroom. I cannot believe that we need to say this. But that’s it, somewhere along the way, this very basic fact of cleanliness protection has gone by the wayside… lost in translation? If you take the subway or go to the mall, wash your hands after you touch the doors, railings, etc. If you go to the grocery, most of the groceries give you a sanitary wipe to use on your hands before you touch a grocery cart… But washing with warm soapy water and drying with a clean disposable paper towel (or warm forced-air drying) is truly the best thing you can do!
Wash your hands–and your children’s hands– after you or they go to the bathroom and before you touch food… or children…or prepare someone’s food. Wash your hands after you touch raw meat, fish, poultry or eggs! Wash the vegetables you buy at the grocery store (fertilizer residue may still be on fresh produce!)– and THEN wash your hands! Wash your hands before you eat! Wash your hands before and after you touch a child’s or an adult’s diaper. Make sure that diapers are always disposed of properly. Some people (very few, I’m guessing) still use cloth diapers–and launder them in very hot water with some measure of chlorine or other bleach.
E. Coli can be spread in other ways… through contamination of food by raw sewage, contamination of food, liquid or water by fecal matter. It has been found on food including ground meat, cantaloupes and on imported green onions in the past. But the real bad-actor is on dirty hands that may have touched feces. For E.J.’s sake, I am hoping ‘nuff said on this subject. But I feel sure more is still to come until we launch a real campaign. Until that day, please, please remember to wash your hands!