Source still unknown in 72-case, 5-state E coli outbreak

E coli bacteria up close
E coli bacteria up close


The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said today that federal and state health officials are investigating an Escherichia coli O103 outbreak that has now sickened 72 people in five states, but so far no source has been found.

Today's announcement follows recent health alert from Kentucky, where most of the cases have been reported, and earlier reports that cases has been found in three other states: Tennessee, Ohio, and Georgia.

Virginia joins list of affected states

The CDC said the, of the 72 cases, half (36) are in Kentucky. The others are in Tennessee (21), Georgia (8), Ohio (5), and Virginia (2).

The CDC's total marks an increase of 28 cases from earlier reports, and the agency said investigators are using PulseNet, the national subtyping network, to identify other related cases. The agency added that state officials are probing more illnesses that might be part of the outbreak.

So far, eight patients have been hospitalized, but the CDC hasn't received any reports of hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a potentially fatal kidney complication. No deaths have been reported.

At least half of the patients are children. They range in age from 1 to 74 years, with a median of 17 years, and 55% are female. Illnesses began on Mar 2, with Mar 29 as the latest illness onset.

Source still a mystery

Investigators are still trying to pin down a specific food item, grocery store, or restaurant chain as the source of infections.

In an earlier report, a health official from Kentucky said possible culprits include beef, chicken, and sliced American cheese and that fast food is a source of concern, based on some early reports.

For now, the CDC is not recommending that consumers avoid any particular food or that restaurants or retailers avoid serving or selling any particular food.

"This is a rapidly evolving investigation. We will update our advice if a source is identified," the CDC said.

E coli O103 is one of six non-O157 Shiga toxin-producing strains that are pathogenic to humans.

See also:

Apr 5 CDC outbreak announcement

Apr 3 CIDRAP News scan "E coli O103 tied to 44 cases in Kentucky, spread to 3 other states"

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