Serena Faith Profitt, a 4-year-old Oregon girl, has died from complications of Escherichia coli (E. coli) her family says she caught over the Labor Day holiday weekend. The state public health lab has not yet confirmed the strain of E. coli that Serena tested positive for, but E. coli O157:H7 is thought to be what caused the illness. Most types of E. coli are harmless, but some strains, such as O157:H7, can cause potentially fatal complications, such as kidney failure or anemia.
One other person at the family’s holiday gathering is sick, 5-year-old Brad Sutton. The two children shared a turkey sandwich from a restaurant on Saturday, and also swam in a pond. Either the pond or the food could be the source of the bacteria. However, everyone else is reportedly fine, and no one else ate a turkey sandwich.
The 4-year-old Oregon girl died from complications from hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a type of kidney failure that can originate from Escherichia coli. The children fell ill two days after the holiday, both with low-grade fevers and complaining of abdominal cramps. Then bloody diarrhea began, which is a strong indicator of E. coli O157:H7.
Serena’s parents took her to the emergency room in Lincoln City last Wednesday. The hospital ran tests, found nothing and sent the girl home with instructions to keep her hydrated. When her symptoms got worse her parents took her to the hospital in McMinnville. Physicians rushed her to Doernbecher, a children’s hospital at Oregon Health & Science University, where she was put on dialysis.
Although initially getting better, Serena suffered a stroke on Sunday afternoon, and an MRI showed she had brain damage. She was pronounced brain-dead 12 hours later. The young boy is currently undergoing dialysis for kidney failure in a Tacoma hospital and is being watched closely due to the risk of stroke or seizures.
Escherichia coli is a bacteria that lives in the digestive tracts of humans and animals, which is often found in water or foods that have come into contact with the feces of humans or animals. It can get into meat during processing and can survive through cooking if the infected meat is not cooked to at least 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Any food that comes into contact with infected raw meat can also become infected.
Other foods that can be contaminated with E. coli include raw milk or dairy products, due to bacteria spreading from a cow’s udders to its milk, and raw vegetables and fruits, such as lettuce, alfalfa sprouts or raw juices. Pasteurizing kills bacteria by heating the milk or juice. Contaminated feces may get into ponds or lakes, and people can become infected when they swallow the contaminated water while swimming.
The main symptoms of E. coli O157:H7 infections are stomach cramps, nausea and vomiting and bloody diarrhea. The young and old are most susceptible to contracting the disease. According to Dr. Paul Cieslak, head of infection disease at the Oregon Public Health Division, most deaths are people over 80 and children under 5.
Serena was described by her aunt as “wicked smart,” having learned to read at age 2, loved books, and could not wait to go to kindergarten. The 4-year-old girl’s family and friends gathered in her hospital room to say goodbye at about 9 p.m. on Monday, as Lincoln County and the Oregon Public Health division continue the Escherichia coli investigation.
By Beth A. Balen