An outbreak of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli O157:H7 has arising in the United States. This far, the outbreak reports confirm E. coli has infected 17 people across 13 states including: California, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Vermont, and Washington. The illnesses thus far linked to the United States outbreak occurred between November 15, 2017 to December 8, 2017.
The CDC and the Public Health Agency of Canada insinuate that the United States outbreak may be linked to the current Canadian one. The PHAC is investigating an outbreak of STEC O157:H7 that they confirm is linked to romaine lettuce. The PHAC also comments that the lettuce at the source of the outbreak is likely from the United States or Mexico due to the warmer climate needed to grow the crop.
At this time, no recall has been issued by the Food and Drug Administration or the Canadian health agency. Canadian public health investigators are working with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to narrow down a source for the contaminated romaine lettuce, but it is a long and difficult process. It may be some time before there is confirmation that romaine is the culprit in this outbreak.
The Public Health Agency of Canada has been issuing Public Health Notices as early as November 11, 2017. For its first Public Health Notice, the agency indicated that 21 cases of E. coli illness had been linked across 3 provinces including Quebec, New Brunswick, and Newfoundland and Labrador. That number is up to 41 reported illnesses now.
An additional update on December 14, 2017 showed two additional provinces, including Ontario and Nova Scotia, were added along with 9 additional illnesses. One death was reported to be linked to the outbreak. On December 21, 2017, an additional 10 cases were linked. It was during this time that the Public Health Agency of Canada advised individuals, residing in the affected provinces of Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland and Labrador, to avoid romaine lettuce.
The latest Canadian update on December 28, 2017, the same day as the CDC’s public notice, confirmed the current number of illnesses linked to the outbreak is 41. One additional case was reported in the Canadian outbreak on that day and additional statistics followed – 16 cases required hospitalization and 1 death.
What are STEC E. coli?
E. coli are bacteria. While most E. coli are harmless, some can cause disease ranging from diarrhea to respiratory illness or urinary tract infections. Pathogenic, or disease-causing, E. coli are typically transmitted through contaminated food or water, or through contact with infected people or animals.
Shiga toxin-producing E. coli, abbreviated as STEC, is most commonly reported in the news as being associated with foodborne outbreaks. They usually live in soils and even in the digestive systems of animals. But STEC E. coli do not make animals sick like us. STEC E. coli do not change the sight, texture, taste, or feel of meat.
An infection begins when an individual swallows STEC E. coli, which means that only a small amount of human or animal feces has been ingested. This means even just a bite of contaminated food can be enough to make someone sick. One can also become sick through ingestion of contaminated water, contact with feces of infected individuals, or contact with cattle or other animals.
E. coli Illness
The early symptoms of E. coli infection are watery diarrhea and severe stomach cramps. Nausea and vomiting are also common symptoms. A minor fever may also accompany other symptoms, but not in all cases. If the illness progresses, as it often does, the diarrhea will become increasingly watery and bloody. Because of how serious these types of E. coli infections can be, it is critical that people who suspect they may have it seek medical attention immediately.
Only a licensed healthcare provider can diagnose an E. coli infection. This is usually done through a stool test. Because most infections do not require intervention, you may not know if E. coli or another organism is causing your symptoms.
These usually begin to show anywhere from 1 to 10 days after exposure. In cases without severe complications, the course of the illness is usually between 2 and 9 days. However, those in the high risk group – the young, the elderly, and those with weakened immune systems – are at higher risk for long-term complications and longer illness duration.
In approximately 3-7% of STEC E. coli cases, the infection will progress to a more severe complication, hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). HUS is a form of kidney failure. In a developing case of HUS, an individual might show symptoms including extreme fatigue, loss of pink color in cheeks and eyelids, or decreased frequency of urination. Immediate medical intervention is required in these cases, as the kidneys might stop working altogether or more serious complications could develop. Although some patients recover with medical attention, others might permanently suffer damage or die from their complications.
Of victims who develop HUS, anywhere from 3-5% will die. In fact, the CDC estimates that O157:H7 results in about 60 deaths annually. Those who survive HUS may have future complications and may require a kidney transplant.
Treatment can range from dialysis to blood transfusions, platelet transfusions, or potentially even a kidney transplant in an individual who has developed HUS. Supportive care is required to help the body fight the infection in all cases. Some children fall into comas. Others experience severe edema.
For continuing coverage on the outbreak or and more information on E. coli, please visit www.unsafefoods.com.
Robins Cloud LLP is Helping Potential Victims of E. coli
Robins Cloud LLP is a Plaintiffs’ firm dedicated to helping those who have become ill from contaminated food or beverages. We will continue to follow and investigate the details of this outbreak. If you or someone in your family has become ill with E. coli, Robins Cloud LLP is available to discuss any questions, concerns, and the legal process with you. You can contact us 24 hours a day, seven days a week for a free, no obligation consultation.