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A deadly E. coli outbreak is hitting the US, and the source is unknown

Published Feb 5th, 2021 5:32PM EST
e coli outbreak
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  • A multi-state E. coli outbreak is making people sick across the United States, and the Centers for Disease Control are working on identifying the source.
  • The outbreak is tracked by the strain of the bacteria that is making people sick, and so far over a dozen people have fallen ill, including one death. 
  • This strain appears to be causing severe symptoms, and the majority of individuals who have been identified as being infected have had to be hospitalized.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued an investigation notice into the ongoing outbreak of a specific strain of E. coli across the United States. The multi-state outbreak has already resulted in 9 hospitalizations out of 16 confirmed cases. Sadly, one individual has already died as a result of their infection.

The most distressing part about this notice is that there’s no recall associated with it, and CDC officials have yet to be able to track down the cause. This isn’t necessarily out of the ordinary, as outbreaks tend to be identified before a cause is confirmed, but the fact that this strain of E. coli appears to cause such severe reactions makes it all the more important to identify the source of the outbreak as fast as possible.

While the number of individuals confirmed to have this strain of E. coli is relatively small at just 16, it’s likely that the true number is significantly higher and that those individuals may have had milder symptoms that didn’t require hospitalization and therefore weren’t included in the data. The confirmed cases span five states, but the distribution of the cases is interesting. Patients have been identified in Washington, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Virginia, and New York, so there’s no clear connection in terms of geography.

“Sick people range in age from 10 to 95 years, with a median age of 31, and 88% are female. Of 12 people with information available, 9 have been hospitalized. Of 11 people with information, 3 developed a type of kidney failure called hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). One death has been reported from Washington,” the CDC writes. “State and local public health officials are interviewing people to find out what foods they ate in the week before they got sick.”

Symptoms of E. coli infection include fever, bloating, vomiting, and even bloody diarrhea. If you’re suffering from any of these symptoms, especially if they last for multiple days, it’s incredibly important to contact your doctor and take any measures you need to take in order to ensure you remain healthy. The CDC also offers the following food safety tips to prevent an E. coli infection:

  • Clean: Wash your hands, utensils, and surfaces often. Wash fruits and vegetables before eating, cutting, or peeling.
  • Separate: Keep food that won’t be cooked separate from raw meat, poultry, and seafood.
  • Cook: Use a food thermometer to make sure you have cooked your food to a temperature high enough to kill germsexternal icon.
  • Chill: Refrigerate foods that go bad quickly. Thaw food in the refrigerator, not on the counter.

We’ll likely hear more about this outbreak and the steps being taken to track down the source in the days to come, so keep an eye out and stay safe out there.

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