First death reported in romaine-linked E coli outbreak

In an update on an Escherichia coli O157:H7 outbreak linked to romaine lettuce today, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported the first death, along with 23 more illnesses from 10 states, lifting the total number of people sickened in the outbreak to 121.

Federal health officials are still investigating exactly where and how the romaine was contaminated with the bacteria, as the reach expands in an outbreak that has hospitalized half of the people it has sickened.

Death reported in California; 52 hospitalized

The death was reported in a California resident. Last week the CDC said is seeing a higher than usual number of hospitalizations in the outbreak, which officials said is a pattern seen in the past with outbreaks involving E coli strains that only produce Shiga toxin type 2 (STX2).

So far 52 people have been hospitalized, including 14 with hemolytic uremic syndrome, a potentially fatal kidney complication.

Three more states—Kentucky, Massachusetts, and Utah—have reported their first cases in the outbreak, pushing the number of affected states to 25.

The latest illness onset was Apr 21, and the CDC said infections occurring after Apr 11 might not be reported yet, due to the average 2- to 3-week interval between symptom onset and case reporting.

Romaine warning remains in place

With the investigation into the source of contamination still under way, federal health officials are still warning the public to avoid any type of romaine lettuce unless they are certain that it didn't come from growing regions in Yuma, Ariz., which have been linked to the outbreak. "Product labels often do not identify growing regions; so, do not eat or buy romaine lettuce if you do not know where it was grow," the CDC said.

Most of the illnesses were in people exposed to chopped romaine before they got sick, but last week, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said whole-head romaine from Harrison Farms, of Yuma, was linked to eight E coli infections at a correctional facility in Alaska.

In the United States, romaine harvesting usually shifts north to California at this time of year, but federal officials have said they can't guarantee there are no more products currently coming out of the Yuma growing region. All romaine from the farm linked to Alaska's cases was harvested between Mar 5 and Mar 16, and health officials said last week that the facility is now growing grass.

Eggs recalled in Salmonella outbreak distributed overseas

In other foodborne illness outbreak developments, the FDA said yesterday that the recalled shell eggs implicated in a multistate Salmonella Braenderup outbreak were also distributed to the US Virgin Islands and other overseas locations including several Caribbean locations (Bahamas, Haiti, Aruba, Cayman Islands, Saint martin, Turks & Caicos, Saint Barthelemy), as well at the United Arab Emirates and Hong Kong.

Federal officials and their state partners are juggling three foodborne illness outbreaks, the E coli event linked to romaine, the Salmonella outbreak connected to eggs, and a norovirus outbreak related to raw oysters harvested from British Columbia.

See also:

May 2 CDC outbreak update

Apr 27 CIDRAP News story "Romaine-linked E coli outbreak grows; Arizona farm named in Alaska cases"

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