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The deadly E. coli outbreak caused by contaminated Yuma romaine lettuce continues to keep the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) busy.
The CDC released its most recent update Wednesday, adding 28 illnesses to the total. The current numbers: 149 people sickened in 29 states; 64 victims hospitalized; 17 with hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a potentially fatal form of kidney disease; and one death, in California.
- Outbreak victims range in age from 1 to 88.
- The median age is 30.
- Sixty-five percent of the cases involve females.
- The dates of illnesses range from March 13 to April 25.
Officials said last month that “dozens” of farms in the Yuma, Arizona, growing region were possible sources.
“You’re looking at more of a web,” Dr. Stic Harris, director of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Coordinated Outbreak Response and Evaluation Network, told USA Today at that 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 whole-head romaine lettuce to a correctional facility in Alaska. Eight people in that state got sick. Those heads were harvested between March 5 and 16, and they are past their 21-day shelf life.
MN adds 10 victims
Minnesota made the biggest splash in the latest update, adding 10 victims to the outbreak totals. The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) confirmed the 10 cases on Tuesday.
Nine of the 10 Minnesota victims are female, the MDH reported. Three of the 10 were hospitalized, and two developed HUS.
The MDH’s illness dates differ from those of the CDC. Minnesota’s illnesses range from April 20 through May 2. The cases are from all around the state.
Minnesota has the fourth-highest total of illnesses, behind only California (30), Pennsylvania (20), and Idaho (11).
no longer produced
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reported last week that Yuma romaine is no longer being produced and distributed, reducing the potential for exposure to contaminated romaine. But because of the lettuce’s 21-day shelf life, the FDA said it cannot say for sure that Yuma romaine is no longer in the supply chain.
The FDA and CDC have been investigating the E. coli outbreak with the assistance of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), as well as multiple state departments.
Just avoid it
The CDC has been advising consumers for weeks that if they have purchased romaine in any form – whole heads, hearts, chopped, baby romaine, organic romaine, and salad mixes containing romaine – they should throw it away or return it.
The CDC also said that if you do not know if the lettuce is romaine, throw it away. If you insist on purchasing romaine lettuce, make sure it is not Yuma romaine. If you cannot confirm that, don’t purchase it or eat it.
E. coli information
There are many strains of E. coli bacteria, which are one of the most common causes of food poisoning. The strain causing the current E. coli outbreak is Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli O157:H7, which is also known as E. coli O157:H7, E. coli O157, STEC O157, or O157.
Anyone can become infected by E. coli, but those with the highest risk of becoming severely ill include senior citizens, young children, and people with weakened immune systems.
E. coli produce symptoms similar to those of other foodborne pathogens:
- diarrhea, which can be bloody
- abdominal cramping
- nausea and vomiting
- fever and fatigue
- loss of appetite
- decreased urination.
Most people recover without needing to see their doctor, but complications can result and produce dangerous consequences.
Hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS)
The large majority of HUS cases involve children younger than 5. The disease is the leading cause of acute kidney failure (or renal failure) for that age group.
About 10 percent of E. coli cases turn into HUS, which can become life-threatening. It typically develops after diarrhea persists for longer than a week. The bacteria severely damage red blood cells, which results in the kidneys’ filtering system becoming clogged. If that occurs, kidney failure can be the result, and a kidney transplant is a distinct possibility.