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E. coli can be handled

Three children from around Sante Fe, N.M. are recovering from a bacterial gastrointestinal illness caused by E. coli bacteria which the New Mexico State Department of Health said was linked to a multistate outbreak traced to ground beef.

The children became ill last month.

E. coli symptoms usually start within three to four days of exposure, but can range from two to eight days after exposure. Common symptoms are stomach cramps and bloody diarrhea, although people also can have fever, chills and vomiting. Some may not have any symptoms.

E. coli can be spread through contaminated water or food, particularly ground beef or raw milk. Infected people can spread the bacteria by not washing their hands after going to the bathroom, then handling food other people will eat, or by transferring the bacteria to the mouth from the hands.

Dr. Alfredo Vigil, state health secretary, said officials believe two of the children contracted the bacteria from another infected person.

"It's important for you to know E. coli can be prevented by handling beef properly and washing your hands thoroughly with soap and water frequently,'' he said.

Health officials recommend avoiding E. coli by washing hands frequently with soap and water; washing cutting boards, dishes and utensils with hot soapy water; minimizing the amount of time foods are kept at room temperature; keeping raw meat, poultry and seafood away from food that won't be cooked; and cooking meat and poultry to recommended minimum internal temperatures at145 degrees for beef, veal and lamb, 160 degrees for ground beef and pork and 165 for poultry.

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