Earlier this month, reports of a far-reaching Escherichia coli (E. coli) outbreak included less than 50 reports of illness and fewer than 10 hospitalizations. As Bad Food Recall predicted, the number of victims rose, and had more than doubled by the time the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released their latest Investigation Notice on April 12.
Initial Reports of the E. coli Outbreak
When the E. coli outbreak first came to national attention in late March 2019, there were 44 victims in Kentucky and an undisclosed number in Tennessee, Georgia, Ohio, and Virginia. As news outlets spread the story, consumers no doubt questioned whether they could be next. The source of the illness was unknown, and consumers could be vulnerable at any time.
Though the CDC had no shortage of victims to interview, their investigation at that time could only guess that the E. coli outbreak was food related, but the agency was unable to point to any single source. With more than 100 people infected, the investigation ramped up.
Continuing Investigation Points to Ground Beef
With dozens of victims in multiple states, the CDC collaborated with state health departments to conduct a thorough investigation into this E. coli outbreak. After interviewing 75 of the current reported 109 victims, the CDC announced they believed the outbreak to be associated with ground beef.
Around 84 percent of the victims interviewed reported eating ground beef either at home or in a restaurant prior to becoming ill. The majority of the E. coli outbreak victims purchased large trays or chubs of ground beef and cooked the meat at home. The percentage of sick people who recently ate ground beef is much higher than it would be in a survey of healthy people, so the CDC concluded the illness is mostly likely related to ground beef.
At this time, the CDC has not identified any particular source or supplier of contaminated ground beef, but their investigation is ongoing. The CDC expects the victim toll to continue to rise as the investigation continues.
Only illnesses reported prior to March 20, 2019 are included in the current count of victims because of the time it takes for the illness to present symptoms. Further, these illnesses are the only ones included because of the time it takes for reports to reach the CDC. It may be two to three weeks before consumers will have an updated report on the number of illnesses.
Current Details of the E. coli Outbreak
While the investigation is ongoing, here is what we do know about the E. coli outbreak:
- Ground beef is the suspected source of the outbreak, but officials have not ruled out other possible sources.
- Victims report having recently eaten ground beef in their homes or in restaurants.
- 109 people reported illness due to E. coli strain O103.
- Victims have been identified in: Kentucky, Indiana, Georgia, Ohio, Tennessee, and Virginia.
- Kentucky and Tennessee have the highest numbers of reported cases with 54 and 28, respectively.
- 17 people have been hospitalized.
- No cases of hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) or deaths have been reported at this time.
- There is no confirmation of a common source or supply of E. coli contaminated ground beef.
- Anyone could be affected by this E. coli outbreak. Reported victims:
- Are between the ages of 1 and 83
- Have a median age of 18
- 53 percent are female
With no source identified, the CDC does not recommend avoiding ground beef at this time. Consumers are urged to follow food safety guidelines when cooking or cleaning.
The Dangers of E. coli Strain O103
The strain responsible for this E. coli outbreak is identified as O103, which is a strain that produces Shiga toxin, a potentially deadly poison. Shiga toxin attacks the kidneys and can result in hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). Severe cases of HUS are fatal.
This E. coli outbreak has sent about 15 percent of victims to the hospital for treatment of dehydration or other complications. So far, none of the patients have experienced life-threatening complications, but consumers should not take risks with this dangerous strain of E. coli.
Anyone who develops HUS may not initially require hospital care. What makes HUS so deadly is that symptoms don’t develop until the E. coli symptoms start to resolve. As the patient appears to improve, they rapidly descend into kidney failure. Many patients who reach this point die from the complications.
The symptoms associated with this strain of E. coli include:
- Painful stomach cramps
- Diarrhea, perhaps bloody
- Low fever of less than 101 degrees in some victims
Diagnostic testing will confirm E. coli infection. Patients testing positive often require fluids and antibiotics as treatment.
Symptoms of E. coli infection will appear 3-4 days after exposure to the bacteria. About 7 days after exposure, the symptoms of the potentially deadly HUS may appear, including:
- Decreased frequency of urination
- Extreme fatigue
- Blanched cheeks
- Blanched lower eyelids
Anyone experiencing these symptoms should contact their doctor. Some cases of E. coli go undiagnosed if the consumer suspects a virus or other mild illness. Because there is an outbreak, it is important for consumers to get a medical diagnosis and appropriate treatment to reduce the risk of complications.
Report E. coli Illness
The CDC relies on reports from the public to analyze and report on multi-state outbreaks like this one. If you have the symptoms of an E. coli infection, consider the following:
- Talk to your doctor.
- Try your best to make a list of what you ate in the week before you started feeling sick.
- Report your illness to the health department and assist them in their investigation by answering their questions.
- Speak to a food contamination attorney to learn about your legal rights and how to protect them.
Avoiding E. coli Contamination
Though the CDC’s report points to ground beef as the source of this E. coli outbreak, there is no confirmed source at this time, nor are there any ground beef recalls associated with this outbreak. Depending on the outcome of the CDC’s investigation, food recalls may or may not be forthcoming.
To be safe until state and federal agencies identify the specific source of the outbreak, follow these food safety tips:
- Wash hands with soap and hot water after handling raw ground beef.
- Use hot, soapy water or a bleach solution to sanitize any surfaces or utensils that touch raw ground beef.
- Thaw ground beef in the refrigerator, not at room temperature.
- Use thawed ground beef within one or two days.
- Thoroughly cook ground beef to a temperature of 160 degrees prior to consumption.
- Use a food thermometer to test whether ground beef is thoroughly cooked. It is not reliable to use the appearance of the meat to test for doneness.
- Use a food thermometer to test dishes containing ground beef like meatloaf or hamburgers.
- Ask that any hamburger in a restaurant be cooked until it has an internal temperature of 160 degrees.
- Refrigerate any leftover ground beef within two hours and eat it within four days.
Learn Your Rights as a Consumer
Though the CDC has not determined a cause of this E. coli outbreak or issued a recall, a food recall is not a necessary precursor to legal action. If you or someone you love has been diagnosed with E. coli, you have rights. Consumers trust that food manufacturers and preparers will follow food safety guidelines and report any contamination or hazards recognized. Unfortunately, that does not always happen.
As the investigation into this E. coli outbreak continues, you may wonder if you are able to recover financial compensation for your medical expenses or lost wages suffered as a result of your illness. A food safety attorney at Bad Food Recall can help you find out.
Call 1-877-534-5750 to schedule a free consultation with one of our attorneys, or submit our contact form online, and we will get in touch with you as soon as possible.