The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported that an additional 25 people have become ill in a multistate E. coli outbreak since its last report on May 16. That brings the total number of illnesses to 197 people across 35 states since March 13. California and Pennsylvania have recorded the highest number of cases. Canada’s Public Health Agency has also recorded six cases of E. coli “with a similar genetic fingerprint” to the infections occurring in the U.S.
It is believed that most of the illnesses have come from contaminated romaine lettuce sourced from winter growing areas in and around the Yuma region of Arizona. Lettuce is a common culprit in E. coli outbreaks because it’s eaten raw. Most of the newly reported sick people became ill when this contaminated lettuce was still available in stores and restaurants. Romaine lettuce from this area is no longer available, according to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
The FDA is investigating the outbreak alongside the CDC. In a statement, the FDA said, “The agency is examining all possibilities, including that contamination may have occurred at any point along the growing, harvesting, packaging, and distribution chain before reaching consumers.”
At the moment, the contamination has not been traced back to a single source. The FDA said in its statement, “The traceback investigation indicates that the illnesses associated with this outbreak cannot be explained by a single grower, harvester, processor, or distributor. While traceback continues, the FDA will focus on trying to identify factors that contributed to contamination of romaine across multiple supply chains.”
This is the largest outbreak of its kind since 200 people fell ill in a deadly E. coli outbreak in 2006 that was linked to spinach. This new outbreak has claimed the lives of five people.
An E. coli infection can be very dangerous. Symptoms can include fever, abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting, and watery or bloody diarrhea. These symptoms generally appear three to four days after consuming the bacteria. Most people infected by the bacteria get better within five to seven days, but some develop life-threatening complications.
Of the 187 patients for whom information was available in this latest outbreak, 89 (or 48 percent) were hospitalized due to the illness. Twenty-six of the affected developed hemolytic uremic syndrome, a type of kidney failure that could result in permanent kidney damage or death.