The health department released its report into the E. coli outbreak that sickened 16 Huntley High School students and staff and concluded a cafeteria food handler was the likely transmitter of the disease.
The McHenry County Department of Health (MCDH) released the final 152-page report on Thursday.
“MCDH’s investigation into the STEC outbreak at Huntley High School was intricate, encompassing potential exposures both within and outside the school premises,” the department said in a statement.
“Throughout the investigation, data from numerous sources were meticulously collected, reviewed, and analyzed. Investigations of this nature can vary in length due to their complexity,” the department added.
The report said there were 16 cases of Shiga Toxin-Producing E. coli (STEC) involving students and staff of the high school that began in mid-September.
Huntley High School Principal Dr. Marcus Belin sent an email to parents, staff and students about the situation when it began.
“We are taking this situation seriously and are committed to the safety and well-being of our students and staff,” Belin said at the time.
The school worked with the health department to connect with the families of the students who had been impacted.
The health department distributed a survey to students and staff of the school for case finding and data collection.
The final report said the investigation into the outbreak began after a doctor at Northwestern Medicine Hospital in Huntley notified the health department on September 17.
The doctor reported three Huntley High School students went to the hospital with similar symptoms and subsequently tested positive for E. coli.
The report said the school’s cafeteria was identified as the point source location for the transmission of illness in the outbreak.
“Eating a sandwich from the cold sandwich station and eating cookies from the cafeteria were found to be associated with illness. All 15 cases that ate lunch from the cafeteria ate a sandwich from the cold sandwich station and all cases with information available for lettuce ate lettuce on their sandwich,” the report said.
The outbreak at the school was linked to a multi-state outbreak.
“However, this does not imply that the source for the multistate outbreak, which is unidentified to date, is the same as for the outbreak at HHS,” the report said.
“It is likely that the multistate outbreak and the outbreak at HHS share a common source by a student or staff member of HHS becoming ill with STEC after exposure to the source of the multistate outbreak at an external location. Once introduced into HHS, STEC was transmitted primarily through the HHS cafeteria,” the report added.
The report concluded that the likeliest scenario is that an infected food handler failed to wash their hands correctly, which resulted in contamination of surfaces or food items.