Sarah Perramant, the public health epidemiologist in Warren County, told NJ.com that “The Warren County Health Department and state Health Department are investigating a cluster of E. coli cases [potentially from] local Panera Breads.”
The Panera Bread restaurants being investigated are located in the counties of Hunterdon, Middlesex, Somerset, and Warren.
When the outbreak started making headlines on Thursday, DOH spokesperson Donna Leusner said the department would submit the results of its investigation to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for confirmation. She said the process could take longer than a week.
“The source or food product cannot be determined until state lab tests are done to tell if they match the various cases of illness and confirm testing with the CDC,” Leusner said.
Panera Bread might be
E. coli outbreak source
Perramant told NJ.com that the Phillipsburg Panera Bread, located in the Phillipsburg Mall on U.S. 22, was the primary focus of the investigation. She said health officials, however, were investigating all Panera Bread locations in those four counties.
New Jersey residents who have dined at any of the four Panera Bread locations recently and then developed symptoms of E. coli food poisoning (see below) should seek medical attention.
Panera Bread investigated:
E. coli facts and figures
E. coli bacteria (Escherichia coli) are one of the most common causes of foodborne illness year in and year out. They are normally found in the intestines of mammals. Most strains are benign, but some strains can cause serious illness.
Anyone can become infected, but people with the highest risk of becoming severely ill include young children, the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems.
E. coli symptoms are similar to those produced by other foodborne pathogens and generally include:
- nausea and vomiting
- diarrhea (often bloody)
- severe abdominal cramping
- fever and fatigue
- loss of appetite
- decreased urination.
Symptoms usually last from five to 10 days, and most people recover without treatment. Complications can arise, however, and produce severe consequences.
E. coli complications: HUS
As much as 10 percent of people infected with an E. coli illness develop hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), which can be life-threatening. The overwhelming majority of HUS cases involve children under 5, and the disease is the leading cause of acute kidney failure (renal failure) for that age group.
HUS typically develops after a prolonged case of diarrhea. HUS damages the red blood cells, and that can clog the filtering system of the kidneys. If kidney failure occurs, a kidney transplant might be necessary.
HUS is fatal in 2 percent to 7 percent of cases, and those almost always involve children. HUS victims who survive can suffer long-term consequences, including hypertension and impaired kidney function.
E. coli complications: TTP
Another complication of E. coli illness is a variation of HUS called thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura (TTP). This complication usually occurs in the elderly.
Elderly people develop more blood-clotting problems, which can result in bruising. The clots can limit or block the flow of blood to the body’s organs, such as the brain, kidneys, and heart. This can produce a higher fever and neurologic changes, in addition to kidney damage. Other serious health problems also can develop.
Until the 1980s, TTP was considered a fatal disease. Treatment with plasma exchange and infusion techniques, however, has reduced the mortality rate to about 10 percent.