E. coli outbreak at NE Portland Montessori school linked to I.M. Healthy SoyNut Butter
This story has been updated from its original version.
Multnomah County officials confirmed Tuesday earlier reports that six people were sickened by E. coli at the Montessori of Alameda School in Northeast Portland, adding that the cases are linked to a recall of two health food products.
The county said four people are known to be sick with E. coli O157:H7 — a particularly virulent and contagious form of the disease, which can cause bloody diarrhea and kidney damage. Two of those cases have a genetic match to the strain in I.M. Healthy SoyNut Butter, officials said. Test results on two additional cases are still pending, though they are known to have shiga-toxin producing E. coli as well.
One child has been hospitalized since March 2, KOIN 6 News reported last Friday.
The Multnomah County Health Department has been investigating the outbreak since Tuesday, March 7, and officials say they are continuing to dig into how the E. coli strain was introduced to the preschool and daycare center. The school's executive director says they do not serve the product at school, but many families may use it at home.
"We are working closely with families, staff, and school administrators to stop the spread of this infection and understand how this outbreak happened," said Dr. Jennifer Vines, Multnomah County Deptuty Health Officer.
Vines warned people to throw out or return any of the I.M. Healthy products that are part of its nationwide recall.
According to the county health department, I.M. Healthy Soy Nut Butter and I.M. Healthy granola were recalled March 4 when 16 other people became ill across nine states, including Oregon.
Symptoms from E. coli — such as diarrhea which can be bloody, abdominal pain or cramping, nausea and vomiting and low grade fever — can start up to 10 days after exposure, so health officials worry that additional cases could surface.
Multnomah County Health Officer Dr. Paul Lewis said this is the "bad kind" of E coli. It can spread through person-to-person contact, not just through food, although that is a common way people get infected.
"This is a nasty bacteria, it can make you very sick and it's easily spread from person to person," Lewis said. He added in a statement that the risk to the general public is considered low and the county is working directly with the school's parents.
In a statement to KOIN 6 News, Montessori Alameda executive director Tammy Kennedy said, in part:
"We are a nut-free school, so this is an option for our families for their children's lunches," Kennedy said. "…Our school has very high expectations for health and safety and we practice a high level of sanitation. … I have been in contact with the three families and we look forward to them returning to school soon. … We are working with the health department and our families to stay strong and band together during this difficult time."
Adam Bagerski's daughter is in the same class as one of the sick kids and has some of the symptoms associated with E. coli. She went to the doctor last week and had tests done, but they don't know for sure yet if she was infected.
When Bagerski first heard about the students with E. coli on Monday, he wasn't sure what to do or how it might affect his daughter.
"I wish that the administration of Montessori of Alameda could have handled the situation in a more timely manner," Bagerski told KOIN 6 News. "From what I know, one of the children was hospitalized last Thursday, and [my daughter] didn't go to the doctor until today. We pulled her out of school until yesterday."
He's concerned that his daughter staying in the daycare for several days after students had become sick may have contributed to her getting sick, or to her passing the bacteria to other children.
KOIN 6 News is a news partner of the Portland Tribune.
CORRECTION: This story has eliminated a reference to Trader Joe's, as a representative of the company says they do not sell I.M. Healthy products.