E. coli outbreak in Kentucky sickens nearly 50 people, health officials say

Nearly 50 people have been sickened as a result of an E. coli outbreak in Kentucky, state health officials said this week.

Barbara Fox, a spokesperson for the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services, confirmed to Fox News Friday that there have been 46 confirmed cases with six hospitalizations from the outbreak.

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A "possible food contamination source" may be the culprit, Fox said, though noted officials "can't fully confirm that at this time" as "interviews are ongoing with those affected."

The outbreak has affected residents across the state — with more than half of the reported cases occurring in those 18 years old or younger, according to WKYT.

"It is likely a food source because it has been distributed far and wide, whatever it is," Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) field officer and acting state epidemiologist Doug Thoroughman said, per WKYT. “To have this many cases in this short amount of time, it is unlikely that it is some other kind of source, so we think it is a good distribution of some sort."

E. coli are bacteria found in both human and animal intestines.

While most strains are harmless, some are pathogenic and can cause illness, which typically includes stomach cramps and diarrhea, according to the CDC. The bacteria can be transmitted through contaminated water or food and sometimes through contact with other people and animals.

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While most people recover after several days, some E. coli infection cases can be life-threatening. This is especially true for pregnant women, newborns, older or elderly adults and those with weakened immune systems.

The CDC recommends thorough handwashing, washing fruits and vegetables, cooking meat thoroughly and avoiding cross-contamination in food preparation areas as ways to prevent E. coli illness.