Today the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicated that ground beef is the likely source of a multistate Escherichia coli O103 outbreak that has now sickened more than 100 people, but officials have yet to identify a supplier.
"Preliminary interview information from ill people suggests that ground beef is the source of this outbreak," the CDC said in a news release. "At this time, no common supplier, distributor, or brand of ground beef has been identified."
Fully 84% of case-patients reported eating ground beef both at home and in restaurants, but at this point the CDC is not recommending that consumers avoid ground beef products, nor should retailers stop selling or serving ground beef. That percentage of patients eating ground beef is "significantly higher" than what would be found in non-infected people, the agency said.
In a separate case update today, the CDC said, "Ill people bought or ate ground beef from several different grocery stores and restaurants. Many ill people bought large trays or chubs of ground beef from grocery stores and used the meat to make dishes like spaghetti sauce and sloppy joe."
"The investigation is ongoing to determine the source of ground beef supplied to grocery stores and restaurant locations where ill people ate," the agency said. "This is a rapidly evolving investigation. CDC will provide more information as it becomes available."
Outbreak grows to 109 cases
Since its previous update on Apr 9, the CDC said 13 more cases have been reported, raising the infection count to 109 and making it the third-largest E coli outbreak in 20 years. Seventeen patients have required hospitalization out of 81 with available information, resulting in a hospitalization rate of 21%.
No deaths or cases of hemolytic uremic syndrome—a serious kidney complication of E coli infection—have been reported.
Patients range in age from 1 to 83 years, but about half are children, as the median age of patients is 18 years. Fifty-three percent are female. The patients began having symptoms from Mar 2 to Mar 26 of this year, but the CDC said illnesses occurring after Mar 20 might not yet be reported.
Indiana has reported its first case. Other states confirming cases are Kentucky (54), Tennessee (28), Georgia (17), Ohio (7), and Virginia (2). Eleven patients have been hospitalized, but no deaths have been reported.
The O103 strain of E coli is relatively rare and has not caused a major multistate outbreak since at least before 2006, according to a CDC list of select E coli outbreak investigations.
Apr 12 CDC news release
Apr 12 CDC update