PETERSBURG, Ill. -- More than 140 people were sickened with a potentially deadly strain of E. coli after partying in a cow pasture last weekend, and state health officials were scrambling to reach more than 1,800 others who were there.
It is the second major E. coli outbreak in two weeks.
In New York state, two people have died and more than 600 others who attended a county fair have E. coli symptoms. New York health officials estimate as many as 1,000 people may have been infected, which would make it the worst E. coli outbreak in U.S. history.
The worst outbreak was in 1993 when 700 patrons of Jack in the Box restaurants in Washington state were sickened by E. coil bacteria linked to undercooked hamburger and four died.
No deaths have been linked to the central Illinois outbreak, but Health Department spokesman Tom Schafer said Saturday that 18 people had been hospitalized, 127 had reported E. coli symptoms and those numbers were expected to rise.
The Sept. 4 party was a free gathering for family and friends of members of eight bands who rarely get to hear them play, said Tom Baird, who has held "Cornstock" in his pasture for the past four years. He said he doesn't plan to hold it again.
"There are kids, grandmas, aunts and uncles ... it's a family thing," he said. The guests came from across Illinois, Florida, Hawaii, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri and Ohio.
Baird said he donated a steer for the party, but it was prepared off-site, and he said he cleaned the pasture of manure before the party.
The E. coli strain, found in the feces and intestines of cattle, is the same strain blamed for the outbreak at the Washington County fairgrounds in New York, Illinois health officials said.
The fairgrounds, in Greenwich, N.Y., are shut down and events canceled while researchers poked through cow manure and take water samples to pinpoint the origin of the 0157:H7 E. coli outbreak.
Late last week, they said tests had confirmed the presence of E. coli in an unchlorinated well not far from cow barns on the fairgrounds. But the water was tested several days after the fair ended, and while it is from the same well, it is not the same water people drank at the fair.
Complicating matters, health officials said they confirmed more than two dozen cases of campylobaceteriosis among the fairgoers. Its symptoms and means of transmission mirror those of E. coli.
The first E. coli victim, 3-year-old Rachel Aldrich of Malta, N.Y., was buried Friday. The second, 79-year-old Ernest L. Wester of Gansevoort, N.Y., died the same day. Wester's granddaughter, Brandy Wester, said he initially thought he had the flu.
The typical incubation period for the illness is three to eight days, but can be longer. Symptoms include bloody diarrhea and severe abdominal cramps.
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