Local public health officials in France are investigating more than 20 cases of food poisoning, mostly affecting children.

The Hauts-de-France public health agency (ARS) reported the suspected outbreak in recent days among pupils in schools in a commune in Northern France.

A total of 21 students enrolled in three schools in Saint-André-lez-Lille have been identified to date and several children have required hospitalization. Officials did not say what agent was responsible but local media reported it was E. coli, without mentioning the serotype. The Hauts-de-France ARS has yet to respond to a request for clarification.

The health agency is coordinating investigations to determine the origin of the outbreak and put in place any necessary public health measures. Information is being shared with parents of pupils of the implicated schools.

Healthcare professionals have also been informed of the incident so they can better prepare to manage suspected patients.

Officials have estimated the date of contamination around Sept. 2 or 3, taking into account the incubation period of one to eight days and dates of symptom onset. They also found all sick children ate in canteens at the schools.

The municipal catering service that provides food to the three schools also supplies another school and three nurseries but no infections have been reported at those sites.

About E. coli infections

Anyone who has developed symptoms of E. coli infection should seek medical attention and tell their doctor about their possible food poisoning. Specific tests are required to diagnose the infections, which can mimic other illnesses.

The symptoms of E. coli infections vary for each person but often include severe stomach cramps and diarrhea, which is often bloody. Some patients may also have a fever. Most patients recover within five to seven days. Others can develop severe or life-threatening symptoms and complications, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

About 5 to 10 percent of those diagnosed with E. coli infections develop a potentially life-threatening kidney failure complication, known as a hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). Symptoms of HUS include fever, abdominal pain, feeling very tired, decreased frequency of urination, small unexplained bruises or bleeding, and pallor.

Many people with HUS recover within a few weeks, but some suffer permanent injuries or death. This condition can occur among people of any age but is most common in children younger than five years old because of their immature immune systems, older adults because of deteriorating immune systems, and people with compromised immune systems such as cancer patients.

People who experience HUS symptoms should immediately seek emergency medical care. People with HUS will likely be hospitalized because the condition can cause other serious and ongoing problems such as hypertension, chronic kidney disease, brain damage, and neurologic problems.

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Source: Children sick in French outbreak

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