Scientists can't find clear source for E. coli that killed young girl, sickened her brother

Her brother was also sickened, but survived.
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State scientists could not figure out the source of an E. coli infection that killed a young Minnesota girl and nearly killed her brother.

The Minnesota Department of Health said Monday epidemiologists completed their investigation into the E. coli contraction from July. 

“Unfortunately, we were not able to identify the source of the children’s infections,” said MDH State Public Health Veterinarian Joni Scheftel in the announcement.

Kallan Maresh, 3 years old, and her brother Kade Maresh contracted the E. coli bacteria last month. The Maple Lake children had non-stop bloody diarrhea and vomiting, the family's CaringBridge says, and they were rushed to the hospital. 

Kallan Maresh died there, with the toxin from the bacteria causing kidney failure and damaging her neurological system.

Kade Maresh also had kidney failure. After days of dialysis he was able to go home in late July – though he's still recovering from the devastating infection, the CaringBridge says, with his kidneys now working at about 50 percent.

What about the petting zoo?

The children had a strain of E. coli that produces the Shiga toxin – it's one of the more common types of E. coli outbreak infections, and can be picked up from food and animals (even healthy ones).

After the Maresh kids became ill, a petting zoo the family had visited took its animals off display, wanting to make sure the animals at the farm were not the cause of the E. coli. 

The Department of Health's investigation however found no connection between that petting zoo and the infections, "despite extensive testing of the animals," Scheftel said.

The department said investigators looked at not only contact with farm animals, but a host of other potential sources: foods like ground beef, leafy greens and raw milk; any swimming they did; or passage from another human, like through a family member or at a daycare.

But they couldn't pin down any source, the department said.

There haven't been any additional cases of this E. coli strain reported, though investigators will keep an eye out for more infections.

The best way to prevent getting the Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli: prevention. Cook meat to the right temp, wash raw fruits and veggies before eating, and wash your hands before eating, after using the bathroom, and after touching animals or the environment.

"We ache, we hurt, we are broken. We long for her presence, one more kiss, one more hug, one more snuggle, one more giggle, one more beautiful smile," the Maresh family wrote on CaringBridge on Aug. 5. "We take one day at a time and we do our best for Kade. He is a strong, sweet boy and he too sure misses his little sister."

A GoFundMe set up for the family has raised more than $73,000 so far.

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