Massachusetts, Virginia probe E coli outbreaks

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Aug 5, 2008 (CIDRAP News) – Massachusetts officials announced yesterday that they were investigating six Escherichia coli O157:H7 illnesses that are linked to a multistate outbreak, while Virginia officials report that E coli has sickened as many as 73 Boy Scouts at a camp.

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health (MDPH) said in a press release that it has not yet identified the source of the patients' infections but suspects contaminated ground beef. The cases were linked to a multistate outbreak through PulseNet, an electronic network for sharing molecular fingerprinting (pulsed-field gel electrophoresis) data.

"These cases may be linked to 20 other cases in several states and Quebec that were caused by the same strain of E. coli," the release states.

But it was not clear if the statement referred to a recent seven-state outbreak that has been tied to ground beef sold at Kroger retail stores. That outbreak involved 49 cases in seven states (Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, New York, Ohio, and Utah), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC's) last update on Jul 18. The outbreak also prompted a Jun 30 recall of 531,000 pounds of ground-beef components by Omaha-based Nebraska Beef Ltd. Three days later the company expanded the recall to 5.3 million pounds.

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) is working with state officials to determine the cause of the Massachusetts cases, and authorities collected several ground beef samples from stores and will conduct tests this week, according to the MDPH.

The MDPH said patients range in age from 3 to 60 years old and are from three counties. They reported becoming ill between Jul 10 and 16, and at least five patients were hospitalized. No deaths have been reported.

Meanwhile, the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) reported Jul 31 that it was investigating an E coli O157:H7 outbreak that has shuttered one of the nation's largest Boy Scout camps, located in Goshen near the Blue Ridge Mountains. In an update today, the VDH said that 73 Scouts have reported illness since attending the camp, and E coli O157:H7 infections have been confirmed in 21. Eight Scouts have been hospitalized.

Karen Remley, MD, MBA, Virginia's health commissioner, said in the statement that the majority of the sick boys are from northern Virginia, but Scouts attending the camp came from other areas in the state as well as Maryland, the District of Columbia, and possibly other states.

Diane Woolard, an epidemiologist with the VDH, told CIDRAP News that laboratory studies haven't yielded any evidence that the strain responsible for the cluster of Virginia illnesses matches the seven-state outbreak.

The VDH said samples of raw ground beef from the camp have tested positive for an E coli O157:H7 strain that matches some of the sick patients, the Associated Press reported today. However, Woolard said officials are looking at all possible exposures and are awaiting the results of full epidemiologic and laboratory studies.

See also:

Aug 4 VDH press release

Jul 18 CDC E coli outbreak update

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