The Madison County Health Department is investigating three cases of E. coli illnesses in the county. The first case was reported last week and two more cases have been reported so far this week, according to a health department release. Of these cases, one was reported as an adult, and two were children.

According to the press release, Escherichia Coli are germs that typically live in the bowel of people or animals. Most types of this germ are harmless, but some kinds cause disease by making a toxin called Shiga toxin. Germs that make these toxins are called "shiga toxin-producing" E.coli.

On Wednesday, the Kentucky Department of Public Health reported that the state has now seen 44 cases of the illness, and can confirm cases from 24 counties across the state from Pike to Carlisle.

Also noted in the release are that six of the cases have required hospitalization. Out of the 44 cases, 25 of them are female and 19 are male.

Jim Thacker, the health department's public information officer, stated that right now, the state and local departments don't know why they are seeing these increases.

"Typically, it is foodborne and giving the fact we are seeing it across the state and surrounding states, it would appear that there is a distributor of a food product and that could be the cause," Thacker said.

He said that the Center for Disease Control along with state and local health departments are still investigating the cause of the outbreak.

Symptoms of the foodborne illness include severe stomach cramps and diarrhea. Some people can experience vomiting or a fever, but these are less common. In some cases, the diarrhea can turn bloody after three or four days, and symptoms usually go away after five to seven days.

Thacker said the health department wants the public to be aware of the symptoms of E. coli infection and seek immediate medical care if they suspect infection.

As far as preventing the illness, Thacker said the most important things to remember are these germs can only make you sick if you swallow them, and that germs can be killed by thoroughly cooking high risk foods and removed by thoroughly washing your hands with soap and water.

He explained the only thing health care providers can do is supportive care, such as fluid IVs due to the loss of fluids. People will become dehydrated and that is when it gets dangerous, especially for young kids and those who are older because they are more apt to be seriously ill, according to Thacker.

"It's important that people know to let this run its course," he said. "You don't want to stop the diarrhea because it is flushing it out of their system, which takes about five to seven days. People need to avoid things like 'Tums' and things like that so it leaves the body. You don't want to inhibit that and keep it in longer."

Prevent the spread of E.coli infections and other diseases with these tips:

• Avoid unpasteurized dairy products (such as raw milk or non-aged cheese made from raw milk) and unpasteurized juices (like fresh apple cider).

• Always cook meat thoroughly. It is best to use a thermometer, as color is not a very reliable indicator of "doneness". Ground beef should be cooked until the center is 160 degrees.

• Do not put cooked meat or other prepared food on a dish or cutting board that held raw meat.

• Avoid swallowing water when swimming or playing in lakes, ponds, streams and swimming pools.

• Always wash your hands with soap and water after going to the bathroom or changing a diaper. Wash them again before touching or eating food. You should also always wash your hands after contact with animals or the environment where they live.

If you believe you are showing symptoms of the E. coli, see your family health care provider immediately. For more questions, contact MCHD at 859-623-7312.

Reach Taylor Six at 624-6623 or follow her on Twitter at @TaylorSixRR.

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