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The contaminated romaine outbreak producing deadly E. coli illnesses continues to grow, even as it is being declared over.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently released updated statistics on the contaminated romaine outbreak from lettuce produced in the Yuma, AZ, growing region: 172 ill and 75 of them hospitalized across 32 states.

In addition, the CDC reports, 20 victims have developed hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a potentially fatal form of kidney disease. There also has been one death, a resident of California.

Meanwhile, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the last shipments of romaine from the Yuma growing region were harvested April 16, and the region’s harvest season has ended. It is unlikely that romaine from the Yuma growing region is still available because of the lettuce’s 21-day shelf life.

Contaminated romaine outbreak
hits females the hardest

Other statistics from the CDC on the contaminated romaine outbreak:

  • Sixty-five percent of the cases involve females.
  • Victims range in age from 1 to 88.
  • The median age is 29.
  • The dates of reported illnesses range from March 13 to May 2.

(Note: Illnesses occurring after April 21 might not have been reported because of the time it takes between when a person becomes ill with E. coli and when the illness is reported. This usually takes about 2-3 weeks.)

contaminated romaine outbreak

The contaminated romaine outbreak producing E. coli illnesses continues to grow, even as it is being declared over by the FDA. Updated CDC statistics: 172 ill and 75 hospitalized in 32 states, with 20 cases of HUS and one death.

Contaminated romaine outbreak:
“Dozens” of potential sources

Officials said in April that “dozens” of farms in the Yuma growing region were possible sources.

“You’re looking at more of a web,” Dr. Stic Harris, director of the FDA’s Coordinated Outbreak Response and Evaluation Network, said at the time. “We’re trying to figure out where all of those are coming from and ideally, we’d like to get those mapped out and find convergence someplace to identify some specific cause and we’re not there yet. We may not get there.”

The only specific source discovered to date is Harrison Farms, which supplied heads of romaine to an Alaskan correctional facility. Eight people in that state got sick. That romaine was harvested between March 5 and 16, and is long past its 21-day shelf life.

The FDA said it has not determined where in the supply chain of that romaine that the contamination occurred.

Contaminated romaine outbreak:
What is HUS?

Hemolytic uremic syndrome, or HUS, almost always affects children younger than 5. The disease is the leading cause of acute kidney failure – also called renal failure – for that age group.

About 10 percent of E. coli food poisoning cases evolve into HUS, which can become life-threatening. It typically develops after a bout of diarrhea that lasts longer than a week.

E. coli bacteria severely damage red blood cells, and that almost always results in the kidneys’ filtering system becoming clogged. When that happens, kidney failure can result, and a kidney transplant becomes a distinct possibility.

Contaminated romaine outbreak:
Information about E. coli

There are many strains of E. coli, which are one of the most common bacteria causing foodborne illnesses. The strain causing this contaminated romaine outbreak is called Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli O157:H7. It is also known as E. coli O157:H7, E. coli O157, STEC O157, or O157.

Anyone can become infected, but people with the highest risk of becoming severely ill include the very young and the very old, and anyone who has a compromised immune system.

E. coli bacteria generally produce symptoms that are similar to the symptoms of other foodborne illnesses:

  • diarrhea, which often can become bloody
  • severe abdominal cramping
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • high fever
  • constant exhaustion
  • little to no appetite
  • decreased urination.

Most victims will recover from a bout with E. coli on their own, and won’t need to see their primary health-care provider. Complications like HUS can result, however, and produce dangerous consequences.