Oregon four-year-old Serena Profitt has died after fighting complications from a particularly aggressive E. coli infection she contracted about a week ago. And now, her five-year-old friend Brad Sutton is fighting for his life in the hospital with kidney failure and a suspected E. coli infection.
Profitt died Monday evening from complications of hemolytic uremic syndrome, a condition that results in kidney injury and is linked to E. coli infections, according to a statement from Oregon Health & Science University. Public health officials confirmed that Profitt had an E. coli infection, but they're still conducting more lab tests to identify the strain.
Meanwhile, both local and state public health officials have launched an investigation to determine where Profitt could have contracted the infection in an effort to prevent a potential E. coli outbreak.
Profitt’s relatives told The Oregonian that they suspect the root of her infection is a restaurant turkey sandwich that she and Sutton shared over Labor Day weekend.
"I know in my heart it's what they ate because everyone else is just fine,” said the mother of the hospitalized boy to The Oregonian.
However, local NBC affiliate King 5 News noted that they also swam together in a pond.
To help the family pay their hospital bills, Profitt's aunt Aleasha Hargitt-Profitt had set up a GoFundMe page soon after the girl was admitted to the hospital. The most recent update, shared Wednesday, thanked the online community for supporting the family with prayers and donations:
The family would like to thank everyone for the flood of support. We just shared all the comments with Rachel and she was overwhelmed. We are setting up a memorial in Lincoln City and will post the date when we finalize. The family is holding strong and has gathered at a house in Sandy Oregon. We continue to ask for your prayers. Steve and Rachel have asked that everyone knowns just how much this support means to them. The compassion is shocking.
Most people who develop HUS are children under five and the elderly, and they get it after being infected by certain strains of E. coli, according to the National Institutes of Health.
E. coli, or Escherichia coli, are bacteria that can be found in the intestines of humans and animals. The bacteria are generally harmless, but certain strains can produce a toxin that causes severe diarrhea, urinary tract infections, pneumonia and other illnesses, according to the Oregon Health Authority.
Dangerous strains of E. coli can be found in contaminated, undercooked food, unpasteurized milk and juice and unwashed, raw fruits and vegetables. To prevent E. coli infection, officials recommend cooking meat thoroughly and practicing safe kitchen hygiene by separating raw meat from other foods, cleaning surfaces and objects that raw meat has touched with hot, soapy water, and washing hands after handling raw meat, changing diapers or going to the bathroom.