The state Health Department today added to the toll of an intestinal illness outbreak in northeast Oklahoma. A hospital official says some of the victims are children.
Records show that state Health Department inspectors conducted an emergency inspection Saturday at the Country Cottage restaurant in Locust Grove - where the food-borne illnesses are believed to have started - and found nine health violations. It was previously reported that the inspection found no health violations.
To date, one person has died, 17 have been hospitalized and 40 are thought to be ill in connection with food-borne illnesses from an unknown source, according to a news release from the Health Department.
At least six of those hospitalized are children. Three children ages 18 months to 12 years are undergoing dialysis at Children's Hospital at St. Francis in Tulsa, according to Dr. William Banner, co-director of the hospital's pediatric intensive care unit. Two other children were transferred to Oklahoma City for similar treatment, and one 15-year-old may soon need dialysis in Tulsa, Banner said.
Dialysis is a treatment used on patients whose kidneys are no longer functioning. Most of the victims have become sick with severe, bloody diarrhea.
State Health Department officials have said the majority of the victims ate recently at the Country Cottage restaurant in Locust Grove, which is about 50 miles east of Tulsa. The man who died — Chad Ingle, a 26-year-old newlywed gospel singer from Pryor — ate at the restaurant on Aug. 17, was hospitalized Thursday and died Sunday.
Larry Weatherford, a spokesman for the state Health Department, said Tuesday that state officials became aware of a "suspicious cluster" of illnesses on Friday, but decided not to alert the public until Monday because "there wasn't information pointing any one direction at that point."
The illnesses are thought to be related to bacteria found in food, but officials say test results are still pending. Feces — either from animals or people — are often the source of bacterial contamination in food and in water.
The health department ran an emergency inspection of the Country Cottage restaurant on Saturday, and officials, including the state's epidemiologist, Kristy Bradley, said Monday that no health violations were turned up in that investigation.
However, online records indicate Country Cottage was hit with nine violations in the Saturday inspection, including two that could cause food-borne illnesses.
Some food on the buffet that was supposed to be kept cooler than 41 degrees had heated to unacceptable temperatures, according to the document. Other buffet food that was supposed to be kept warmer than 140 degrees had cooled to 115 degrees, according to Tressa Madden, the department's director of consumer protection.
"If you look at buffets, you're going to see a high risk on temperature controls because (food is) not cooked to serve," she said. "There are products that individuals are touching and they're serving themselves."
Madden said all of the problem food was thrown away after the inspection Saturday.