Something has infected dozens of people with the dreadful foodborne illness E. coli, but no one knows what the culprit might be.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced Friday that from March 29, and as of April 4, 72 people in five states have gotten sick from E.coli, and eight of them have become so ill that they were hospitalized. No deaths have been reported. Additional illnesses may be related to this outbreak but not reported, the CDC said.
States where illnesses were reported include Georgia (8), Kentucky (36), Ohio (5), Tennessee (21) and Virginia (2). Symptoms of E. coli can include water or bloody diarrhea, fever, abdominal cramps, nausea and vomiting, and usually begin about three or four days after consuming the bacteria. Most people recover within a week, but some illnesses can last longer and be more severe, the CDC said.
The CDC has few clues what food item may have caused the infections. The agency is working with state health departments, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to identify the source of the outbreak. In the interim, the CDC said that consumers need not avoid any particular food, and grocery stores, retailers and restaurants need not avoid serving or selling any particular food at this time.
Anyone who believes they have been infected with E.coli should talk with their doctors, and be sure to write down everything they have eaten during the week before symptoms developed.
The most dangerous type of E. coli, known as E. coli O157:H7, causes severe, bloody diarrhea and can sometimes lead to kidney failure and even death. E. coli O157:H7 belongs to a group of bacteria that produce a toxin called Shiga toxin, known as a Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC). Many of these STECs can make you just as sick as E. coli O157:H7.
Another severe complication associated with E. coli infection is hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a condition brought about when E. coli toxins destroy red blood cells, injuring the kidneys. HUS can require intensive care treatment, kidney dialysis, and blood transfusions.
The CDC estimates that Shiga toxin-producing E. coli cause more than 265,000 illnesses each year in the U.S., with more than 3,600 hospitalizations and 30 deaths.
E. coli is spread through the feces of infected humans and animals and it can contaminate just about anything that can be ingested. Common sources include ground beef, unpasteurized meat, juice, dairy products, raw fruits and vegetables, and contaminated drinking water. Swimming in contaminated water and petting or handling livestock such as cows, sheep, and goats without thoroughly washing hands afterward are other ways people often become sickened by E. coli.