Health Dept. lifts daycare closure after E. coli outbreak; state still must OK reopening


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Health officials from almost every agency and organization warn raw milk often contains dangerous bacteria that can sicken or even kill people.
Angela M Gosnell, USA TODAY NETWORK – Tennessee

The Knox County Health Department has lifted its closure order for Kids Place Inc. child care center after five cases of E. coli were reported there this week. But the day care center must receive similar approval from the Tennessee Department of Human Services before it can reopen, according to a Friday evening news release from Kids Place.

On Tuesday, Kids Place closed the “Baby House,” the section of the day care facility where children were ill, on the health department’s recommendation, but kept programs for other age groups operational.

On Friday morning, the Department of Human Services said it had actually issued a safety plan requiring Kids Place to close its entire Millertown Pike campus and had only Thursday learned that the center “had not … ceased operations throughout the entire facility.” It’s since completely closed “until the Knox County Health Department provides written documentation that the center is clear and free of E-coli or any other pathogen that may be present,” said Sky Arnold, press secretary for TDHS.

At this point, TDHS is not ready to allow children to return to the day care, Arnold said in an email Friday evening.

“TDHS is additionally in the process of reaching out to child care providers in the Knox County region to assist efforts to find available child care options for parents while Kids Place Inc. remains closed,” Arnold said.

Knox County Health Department Director Dr. Martha Buchanan notified Kids Place in writing that the facility successfully followed the appropriate steps to reduce the spread of E. coli, Kids Place said in its news release Friday evening. These steps included environmental cleaning, infection control education of the staff by the health department, a written infection control plan regarding animal exposure, closing of the pool at the facility until June 18, and completion of food and facilities inspections.

“Thank you for your cooperation with the Knox County Health Department in our efforts to reduce the spread of E. coli,” Buchanan wrote to Kids Place, according to the release. “As discussed, the Tennessee Department of Human Services as your regulatory authority will have final say regarding lifting their closure; however, from the public health perspective, the imminent health threat has been mitigated and it is safe for the Baby House to resume operations.”

Once DHS makes a determination, Kids Place will notify parents of its plans for opening the facilities. 

The day care’s satellite locations were not affected by the closure.

More than 10 young children sickened

While investigating the outbreak, Buchanan said the health department had narrowed the probable sources to raw milk from a local cow-share dairy, French Broad Farm, and to a specific building housing children younger than 3 at the day care center, who might have been exposed to farm animals. Since the strains of E. coli found in both sets of children were the same, she said, the health department was looking for a link.

More: ‘Close to 10’ children hospitalized for E. coli; ‘raw’ milk, farm animals may be sources

Over the past two weeks, East Tennessee Children’s Hospital has treated more than 10 young children, all under age 4, who were ill from E. coli, and all of whom consumed raw milk, said hospital spokesman Seth Linkous. Most of them have now been discharged. Another child admitted Friday in “good condition” attended the Kids Place Inc. day care center in Mascot, Linkous said. So far, other ill children from the day care center have been treated by their physicians but not hospitalized, the day care said Thursday.

More: E. coli infection: Five things you should know to keep your kids safe

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Dr. Joe Childs from East Tennessee Children’s Hospital talks about the dangers of drinking raw milk.
Angela M Gosnell, USA TODAY NETWORK – Tennessee

Department of Health tests milk

Meanwhile, the department of health is in the process of testing both milk from French Broad Farm and manure from cows there and animals near the day care center for the strain of E. coli that sickened the children, Buchanan said.

More: In the wake of E. coli outbreak linked to French Broad Farm, some ask what ‘raw milk’ is

A representative for a Seattle law firm specializing in food safety cases has met with three families who have children in the pediatric intensive care unit at East Tennessee Children’s Hospital after being sickened by E. coli.

Drew Falkenstein, a Louisville, Kentucky, lawyer with Seattle’s Marler Clark law firm, said he met with the parents of four children, all younger than 4, who are in kidney failure from the illness. All had consumed raw milk from French Broad Farm in Knox County, according to Children’s Hospital.

Falkenstein said the law firm he works for handles multiple raw milk cases a year. He said beyond just a dietary decision, there’s a movement for raw milk drinking that has cultural, religious and political undertones with many people defending the practice with “very deeply held beliefs.”

However, he said some parents’ decision to feed their children raw milk “is based on misinformation.”

“On multiple occasions, my clients have been told a version of something like, ‘The good bacteria will kill the bad bacteria, so don’t worry,’  or, ‘The outbreaks you have seen reported in the news … is a conspiracy,'” Falkenstein said. 

“There are some parents who decide to feed raw milk knowing that it poses some level of risk,” he said. “If you asked any of those parents whether they were aware that ‘feeding my child raw milk can put them in the hospital with a condition that causes their kidneys to fail, that causes brain damage in certain situations, that can cause my child to die,’ I think you’d get a different answer from those people than ‘Well, did you know that it could make you sick? Yeah, I thought you’d get food poisoning and have diarrhea for a couple of days and then feel better.’ But that’s not what this stuff is about.”

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