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Many similar illnesses in multiple states are suspected to be part of a romaine lettuce E. coli outbreak, news services are reporting. The outbreak is being investigated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

At least 17 people have been sickened in 13 states. The outbreak is being attributed to Escherichia coli O157:H7, a Shiga-toxin-producing strain of E. coli.

Illness onsets range from Nov. 15 through Dec. 8. The states reporting illnesses are California, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Vermont, and Washington.

State and local authorities are interviewing those sickened to see what they ate. Because a source hasn’t been identified, the CDC said it is unable to recommend if residents should avoid a particular food. “This investigation is ongoing, and more information will be released as it becomes available,” the CDC said in a statement.

The CDC, however, also said the outbreak strain is closely related to one in Canada that has been associated with romaine lettuce.

Romaine lettuce E. coli outbreak hits Canada first

The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) issued an announcement on Dec. 11 about an E. coli outbreak linked to romaine lettuce. On Dec. 21, the PHAC said it is investigating 40 cases in five provinces: Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland and Labrador.

The PHAC has urged the public to avoid eating romaine lettuce until more is known about the contamination.

E. coli facts

One of the most common foodborne illnesses is caused by E. coli bacteria, which are normally found in the intestines of all mammals. Most strains are benign, but some can cause serious illness, primarily by eating contaminated food.

Anyone can become infected by E. coli, but those with the highest risk of developing severe illness – or hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), which can lead to kidney failure – include young children, the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems.