New 5-state E.coli outbreak kills one person: food source remains unknown

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The food source responsible for a new outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 in five states remains unknown. Sixteen illnesses, nine hospitalizations, and one death are associated with the multistate outbreak. The outbreak is under active investigation by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), and several state health departments.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta released this map showing where the ill people live.

Those Illnesses started on dates ranging from Dec. 23, 2020, to Jan.  7, 2021. This chart shows when people got sick.  Recent illnesses may not yet be reported as it usually takes 2 to 4 weeks to link illnesses to an outbreak.

Sick people range in age from 10 to 95 years, with a median age of 31, and 88 percent are female. Of 12 people with information available, nine have been hospitalized. Of 11 people with information, three developed a type of kidney failure called hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). One death has been reported from Washington.

State and local public health officials are interviewing people to find out what foods they ate in the week before they got sick.

Public health investigators are using the PulseNet system to identify illnesses that may be part of this outbreak. CDC PulseNet manages a national database of DNA fingerprints of bacteria that cause foodborne illnesses. DNA fingerprinting is performed on bacteria using a method called whole-genome sequencing (WGS).

WGS showed that bacteria from sick people’s samples are closely related genetically. This means that people in this outbreak likely got sick from eating the same food.

WGS also showed that this outbreak strain has been previously linked to various sources, including romaine lettuce, ground beef, and recreational water. More information is needed to identify the source of this outbreak.

Symptoms of E. coli

  • Most people infected with Shiga toxin-producing E. coli experience severe stomach cramps, diarrhea (often bloody), and vomiting.
    • Symptoms usually start 3 to 4 days after swallowing the bacteria.
    • Most people recover without treatment after 5 to 7 days.
  • Some people may develop a type of kidney failure (hemolytic uremic syndrome, also called HUS) and would need to be hospitalized.
  • For more information about E. coli, see the E. coli Questions and Answers page.

What You Should Do

Call your healthcare provider right away if you have any of these severe E. coli symptoms:

  • Diarrhea and a fever higher than 102°F
  • Diarrhea for more than 3 days that is not improving
  • Bloody diarrhea
  • So much vomiting that you cannot keep liquids down
  • Signs of dehydration, such as:
    • Not urinating (peeing) much
    • Dry mouth and throat
    • Feeling dizzy when standing up

If you have symptoms of E. coli, help us solve this outbreak:

  • Write down what you ate in the week before you got sick.
  • Report your illness to your local or state health department.
  • Answer public health officials’ questions about your illness.

Follow these four food safety stepsexternal icon to prevent getting sick from E. coli:

  • Clean: Wash your hands, utensils, and surfaces often. Wash fruits and vegetables before eating, cutting, or peeling.
  • Separate: Keep food that won’t be cooked separately from raw meat, poultry, and seafood.
  • Cook: Use a food thermometer to make sure you have cooked your food to a temperature high enough to kill germsexternal icon.
  • Chill: Refrigerate foods that go bad quickly. Thaw food in the refrigerator, not on the counter.

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