Sick from E. coli?
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Four more deaths have been attributed to a national foodborne illness outbreak blamed on tainted romaine lettuce, bringing the total number of fatalities to five.
The updated statistics on the outbreak from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show:
- Twenty-five more ill people from 13 states were added to the investigation since the last update on May 16, bringing the total to 197 people sickened.
- Another 14 people have been hospitalized, putting that total at 89.
- Three more states – Arkansas, North Carolina, and Oklahoma – reported illnesses, making the total number of states affected at 35.
- Twenty-six victims have developed hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a potentially fatal form of kidney disease (see below).
- The additional four deaths were reported from Minnesota (2), Arkansas, and New York.
The outbreak numbers continue to grow because it takes two to three weeks between when a person becomes sick with E. coli and when the illness is reported to the CDC. The CDC said that illnesses occurring after May 6 might not yet be reported.
Tainted romaine lettuce:
Outbreak over, but numbers grow
The E. coli outbreak was first attributed to tainted romaine lettuce produced in the Yuma, Arizona, growing region on April 18. About a month later, on May 16, the CDC declared the outbreak over.
At that time, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said that the last shipments of Yuma romaine were harvested April 16, and it was highly unlikely that romaine was still available for purchase because of romaine lettuce’s 21-day shelf life.
Most victims who were added to today’s update ate romaine when lettuce from the Yuma growing region was likely still available in stores, restaurants, or in homes. Some people who became sick did not report eating romaine lettuce but had close contact with someone who became sick from eating tainted romaine lettuce.
Tainted romaine lettuce
hits females hardest
Other statistics from the CDC on this E. coli outbreak from tainted romaine lettuce:
- Sixty-eight 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 12.
Tainted romaine lettuce:
“Dozens” of potential sources
FDA officials said in April that “dozens” of farms from the Yuma growing region were possible sources for the E. coli.
“You’re looking at more of a web,” said Dr. Stic Harris, director of the FDA’s Coordinated Outbreak Response and Evaluation Network. “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 FDA identified Harrison Farms of Yuma as the sole source of the whole-head romaine lettuce that sickened several people in an Alaskan correctional facility. Harrison Farms is the only specific source cited to date. The FDA, however, said it was not able to determine where in the supply chain of that tainted romaine lettuce the contamination occurred.
Tainted romaine lettuce:
Information about E. coli
E. coli are one of the most common bacteria causing foodborne illnesses. There are many strains of E. coli; the strain identified as the culprit in this outbreak is Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli O157:H7. It is also known as E. coli O157:H7, E. coli O157, STEC O157, or simply O157.
Anyone can become infected with E. coli, but people with the greatest risk of becoming severely ill include young children, senior citizens, and people with compromised immune systems.
E. coli bacteria generally produce symptoms similar to those of other foodborne illnesses, such as:
- diarrhea, which can be bloody
- abdominal cramps
- nausea and vomiting
- lack of appetite
- diminished urination.
Most people who become sick with E. coli will recover without requiring medical attention. Complications like HUS can develop, however, and produce dangerous consequences.
Hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS)
Hemolytic uremic syndrome, or HUS, almost always affects children younger than 5. HUS is the leading cause of acute kidney failure – or renal failure – for that age group.
About 10 percent of E. coli cases develop into HUS, which can become life-threatening. HUS typically develops after a prolonged bout of diarrhea, a week or longer.
E. coli severely damage red blood cells, which can clog the kidneys’ filtering system. When this occurs, kidney failure can be the result, and a kidney transplant is a possibility.