Spinach-related E coli cases rise to 187

Sep 29, 2006 (CIDRAP News) – The number of people sickened in a nationwide outbreak of Escherichia coli O157:H7 infections linked to fresh spinach grew to 187 yesterday, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The 187 cases represent an increase of 4 since Sep 26. Ninety-seven people (52%) were hospitalized, and the number of patients with hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a serious kidney condition, remained the same at 29 (16%).

One death has been blamed on the outbreak so far, an adult in Wisconsin, though health officials in Maryland and Idaho are waiting for lab results in two deaths that may be related to the outbreak.

The CDC said the outbreak strain of E coli O157:H7 has now been isolated from nine packages of spinach from patients in seven states. The Los Angeles Times today reported that California health officials have said all were sold as Dole baby spinach and that none were organically grown. Dole baby spinach is one of the many brands packaged by Natural Selections Foods, the largest of five companies involved in recalling products that contain fresh spinach.

However, Kevin Reilly, deputy director for prevention service at the California Department of Health Services, told the Times that investigators have not ruled out the possibility that organic spinach is involved in the outbreak.

Inspectors employed by two California plants that process spinach for Natural Selections Foods said yesterday that tests for E coli at the plants have been negative, according to the Times report. But Reilly said federal and state investigators have not yet cleared the plants.

In other developments, the CDC reported it is helping the Wisconsin Division of Public Health conduct a case-control study of the E coli outbreak. Wisconsin, with 49 cases, has been the hardest-hit state.

The CDC said investigators, with the help of a CDC hydrologist, have taken 188 environmental samples so far, including water, products from cultivated fields, and sediment. The investigation is focusing on nine farms in three counties in the greater Salinas Valley growing area: Monterey, San Benito, and Santa Clara.

The CDC said spinach grown in these areas is often packaged in other parts of the country and that consumers should not purchase or consume fresh spinach unless they know where it was grown.

Though the outbreak appears to be tapering off, the CDC is still advising that people who experience after eating fresh spinach should contact their healthcare provider and ask to be tested for E coli O157:H7.

See also:

Sep 28 CDC press release
http://www.cdc.gov/ecoli/2006/september/updates/092806.htm

Sep 27 CDC update
http://www.cdc.gov/ecoli/2006/september/response/

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