Wash. day care stayed open after E. coli found

SEATTLE (AP) - County health officials didn't close a Washington state day care for several days after children were hospitalized with a deadly strain of E. coli - because of concerns the infection would spread farther if parents took their children elsewhere.

A 4-year-old boy died after being infected at the Vancouver, Wash., center, and three other children were sickened.

The first case was reported March 19. But Clark County health officer Dr. Alan Melnick said he didn't shut down Fletch Family Daycare until April 2 out of concern that other parents who used the facility could take their children to different day cares and risk exposing others.

Melnick's decision to close the facility came after tests showed seven more children and staff with no symptoms tested positive for the E. coli strain.

"This is really tragic and we're certainly concerned about the kids who were hospitalized, but we're also concerned about keeping this from spreading to other parts of the community," Melnick said Saturday.

He said he felt confident the infection has not spread further and that health officials are closely monitoring the children and staff of the closed center.

Melnick said three children who were hospitalized are at home recovering; he declined to release their ages or other details. Melnick also did not release the date when the 4-year-old child died. That child's death was reported Friday.

The strain involved, E. coli O157:H7, is best known for its role in large outbreaks traced to ground beef or produce. However, person-to-person transmission can be a problem in day-care settings or nursing homes. In some cases, especially in young children, infection can lead to life-threatening complications.

A laboratory reported the first case to health officials on March 19, after it received a stool sample that tested positive for E. coli O157:H7.

On March 26, the same doctor who treated the first child reported a second case to health officials. That day, health officials inspected the facility but didn't "find anything alarming" after reviewing hygiene practices, Melnick said.

Health officials began contacting staff and parents of all the children to pinpoint the source.

About March 29, the mother of a third child called health officials reporting symptoms. Health officials did another inspection that day and didn't find any specific problems, Melnick said. He added that he felt measures were in place to control the spread of the illness.

The boy who died was the fourth child to be hospitalized. On March 30, health officials took stool samples from 22 children and 4 adults. When it got results back showing that E. coli had spread there, it closed the facility.

The center, operated by Dianne and Larry Fletch, has been open since 1990 and no complaints have been filed against it. Lately, it has been caring for about 22 children.

"This is a very difficult time for the family who has suffered such an incredible loss," the Fletches said in a statement Friday. "It is also a difficult time for our day care families and the children who were his friends. It is an especially difficult time for us as day care providers."

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