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The E. coli outbreak attributed to contaminated romaine lettuce continues to grow. Updated numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) put the total people sickened at 84 across 19 states, with 42 people requiring hospitalization.
Since the CDC’s last update on April 18, the number of sick people grew by 31 across 10 states. In addition, three more states reported ill people: Colorado, Georgia, and South Dakota.
The CDC also reported that four additional people have developed hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), putting that total at nine (HUS is a potentially fatal type of kidney failure – see below). No deaths have been reported.
Outbreak victims range in age from 10 to 88, and the median age is 31. Sixty-five percent of those sickened are female. Illnesses started as far back as March 13.
CDC targets Yuma, Arizona
The CDC has placed the blame for the outbreak on chopped romaine lettuce produced in the Yuma, AZ, region. The CDC said, however, that “the investigation has not identified a common grower, supplier, distributor, or brand of romaine lettuce.”
The common strain of E. coli has been identified as Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli O157:H7. That strain also is known as E. coli O157:H7, E. coli O157, STEC O157, or simply O157.
E. coli O157 is the most commonly identified strain of E. coli in North America. When you read or hear about E. coli outbreaks, they are usually talking about E. coli O157.
The CDC said previously that it is investigating the outbreak in conjunction with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), and several state departments.
CDC says avoid all types
The CDC is advising that anyone who has purchased romaine lettuce in any form – whole heads and hearts, chopped romaine, and salads and salad mixes containing romaine – should throw it away. If you insist on purchasing romaine lettuce, whether at a grocery store or in a restaurant, you should confirm that it is not from the Yuma area. If you cannot confirm that, do not buy it or eat it.
E. coli information
E. coli bacteria are one of the most common causes of foodborne illnesses in the United States annually. E. coli are normally found in the intestines of mammals, and most strains are benign.
Anyone can become infected by E. coli, but people with the highest risk of becoming severely ill include the very young and the very old, and anyone with compromised immune systems.
E. coli symptoms
E. coli bacteria generally will cause symptoms similar to those of other foodborne illnesses, such as:
- diarrhea, which often can be bloody
- abdominal cramping
- nausea and vomiting
- fever and fatigue
- loss of appetite
- decreased urination.
Symptoms can last up to 10 days, but most people recover without requiring medical attention. Complications can arise, however, and produce dangerous consequences, such as HUS.
Hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS)
About 10 percent of people infected with E. coli bacteria will develop HUS, and the overwhelming majority of HUS cases involve children under 5. HUS is the leading cause of acute kidney failure – or renal failure – for that age group.
HUS usually occurs after a prolonged case of diarrhea, a week or longer. The bacteria targets red blood cells, damaging them so that they clog the kidney’s filtering system. If this occurs and kidney failure is the result, a kidney transplant is a distinct possibility.
HUS is fatal in 2 percent to 7 percent of cases – and those fatalities usually involve children. HUS victims who survive can suffer long-term consequences, such as impaired kidney function or hypertension.