Though no source has been identified yet, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced yesterday that federal and state health officials are investigating an Escherichia coli O157:H7 outbreak that has sickened 17 people in 7 states.
The outbreak includes infections recently reported by the New Jersey Department of Health (NJDH). The CDC emphasized that so far no specific food item, grocery store, or restaurant chain has been identified as the source of the outbreak, and local public health officials are still interviewing sick people to see what they ate or were otherwise exposed to the week before their symptoms began.
Some media outlets in New Jersey have reported that Panera Bread restaurants are part of a regional investigation into an E coli outbreak and that other chain restaurants could be involved.
PulseNet data help link cases
According to the CDC, the New Jersey investigation included people who tested positive for E coli on a diagnostic test, but some may not be included in the CDC's case count, because no bacterial isolates were available for DNA fingerprinting. PulseNet, the national subtyping network, has linked 6 cases in New Jersey to the multistate outbreak.
In a statement today, the NJDH said its cases are from four counties.
Other affected states include Idaho, with 4 cases, and Connecticut and Pennsylvania with 2 cases each. Three have one case linked to the outbreak so far: Missouri, Ohio, and Washington.
The CDC said illness onsets range from Mar 22 to Mar 31, with patient ages ranging from 12 to 84 years old. Of the sick people, 64% are female.
Six patients hospitalized
Six people have been hospitalized for their infections, including one with hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a potentially fatal kidney complication. No deaths have been reported.
The CDC urged consumers to take general precautions to prevent E coli infection, including hand washing, cooking meat thoroughly, avoiding cross-contamination of foods during cooking, washing fruits and vegetables before eating them, avoiding raw milk and unpasteurized dairy products or juices, and avoiding food preparation when sick.
Symptoms of E coli infection include diarrhea, often bloody, severe stomach cramps, and vomiting, the CDC said. Patients typically get sick 2 to 8 days after exposure to the bacteria and recover within 1 week.
The CDC warned, however, that some illnesses last longer and can result in HUS, which can occur in people of any age but is most common in children younger than 5, older adults, and in those with weakened immune systems.
Apr 10 CDC outbreak announcement
Apr 7 NJ.com story
Apr 11 NJDH statement