Objective: Escherichia coli O157:H7 infection can cause hemorrhagic colitis and hemolytic uremic syndrome. Since 1988 the Minnesota Department of Health has carried out surveillance for this infection. To assess the occurrence of person-to-person transmission within day-care facilities, we investigated facilities where an infected child attended after onset of symptoms.
Design: Parents of children less than 5 years old with E coli O157:H7 infection were interviewed from July 1988 through December 1989. If the child attended day care after onset, stool cultures were obtained from other children in attendance and their parents were interviewed. If there was presumptive evidence of ongoing E coli O157:H7 transmission in a facility, all preschool children were excluded from attending day-care facilities until two consecutive stool cultures were negative.
Results: Sixty-eight cases of E coli O157:H7 infection were identified in Minnesota during the 18-month period, including 29 cases identified through investigations at nine day-care facilities. There was evidence of person-to-person transmission in all nine facilities. The median number of infected children per facility was two (range, two to 18), and the median attack rate was 22% (range, 3% to 38%). The median age of the primary case at each facility was 26 months (range, 12 to 59 months). There was no evidence of further transmission at facilities where children were temporarily excluded until two consecutive stool cultures were negative.
Conclusion: Person-to-person transmission of E coli O157:H7 is common when infected preschool children attend day care while symptomatic. The number of unrecognized day-care outbreaks in the United States may be substantial due to the lack of routine testing for this pathogen in stool cultures, the absence of public health surveillance in many regions, and incomplete follow-up of infected children. Temporary exclusion of all children was an effective control strategy in this population, but additional investigations are needed to determine the optimal intervention.