‘Close to 10 children hospitalized for E. coli’ in Tennessee: raw milk, farm animals may be sources

Kristi Nelson of Knox News reports East Tennessee Children’s Hospital said Tuesday it’s treated “close to 10” children, all younger than 4, for a “serious outbreak” of E. coli-caused illness over the past 10 days. 

The Knox County Health Department has confirmed two likely sources of the outbreak are unpasteurized milk and farm animals.

Most of the ill children are known to have consumed raw milk from a local cow-share dairy, French Broad Farm in Knox County, the health department said in an alert issued Tuesday evening. The health department recommends consumers dispose of all raw milk or other unpasteurized products they may have from this farm.

“People need to be aware that if they choose to drink raw milk, they’re taking a risk,” said Dr. Martha Buchanan, health department director.

The health department is also investigating whether any of the affected children were exposed to E. coli after interacting with farm animals at a local child care facility. The facility, which officials declined to name, is not currently operating, Buchanan said.

Four of the children are in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit with kidney failure, said the hospital’s chief medical officer, Dr. Joe Childs, who is director of the PICU. There have been no fatalities related to the outbreak, hospital staff said, but life-threatening infections can occur when the strain of E. coli releases a toxin, shiga, that harms small blood vessels, of which the kidneys have many. Childs said the damage to the blood vessels is usually “temporary,” but children can get very ill, require surgery to place catheters, and may have nonfunctioning kidneys for weeks. 

“We are concerned that some of these cases do have exposure to the consumption of raw milk,” or milk sold unpasteurized, Childs said. “Tennessee is a state where that’s legal, to obtain raw milk. … The FDA and the American Academy of Pediatrics strongly discourage the consumption of raw milk and raw milk products because there’s a lot of things that can be in milk and there’s no real good way to decontaminate it other than pasteurizing it.”