An E. coli outbreak that started in Kentucky has spread to at least four other states, and the origin of the e. coli bacteria is still unknown. At the moment, the Kentucky Department of Health has identified more than 40 victims of E. coli illness, and expect to report even more cases as lab results roll in. Other states reporting E. coli cases are Tennessee, Georgia, Ohio, and Virginia.
Unknown Origin of the Outbreak
Based on interviews with the victims already identified, state health departments and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) officials suspect the origin of the outbreak to be food-related. At this junction, however, they can only suspect because the true cause remains unknown.
With victims reported all over the state of Kentucky and throughout the surrounding region, there is no way to know how far, and to how many other states, this outbreak may spread. Food suppliers, especially popular brand names, distribute their products nationally. Until the cause is identified and applicable products recalled, it is likely that more cases will be reported.
Current Impact of E. Coli Outbreak
In this currently unfolding outbreak, at least six of the victims have been hospitalized. The 44 cases reported throughout Kentucky include both children and adults. The CDC has not released any demographic information about the E. coli cases in other states. Thankfully, no deaths have been reported at this time.
The Dangers of This E. Coli Bacteria Strain
The specific strain of E. coli bacteria causing this outbreak is known as O103. It produces a toxin in the body called Shiga toxin, which attacks the kidneys and can result in kidney failure in the most severe cases. Exposure to E. coli bacteria can be debilitating and even fatal. It is especially dangerous for:
- Individuals with Compromised Immune Systems
- Pregnant Women
Usually victims begin to feel ill two to five days after exposure to the contaminated source. E. coli bacteria infection that originally presents with abdominal cramps and bloody diarrhea can turn deadly when it develops into a condition known as hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS).
Victims of HUS have an overwhelming reaction to the Shiga toxin and may experience total renal (kidney) failure. The condition usually requires hospitalization.
Symptoms of HUS are:
- Decreased frequency of urination
- Extreme fatigue
- Blanched cheeks and lowered eyelids
It may take weeks for HUS victims to recover. In the worst cases, the condition can cause permanent kidney damage or death.
Tips to Avoid E. Coli Bacteria
As long as the cause of this outbreak remains unknown, any food source is a potential contaminant. The FDA traced the most recent E. coli outbreak of this same strain to Gold Medal brand flour produced in Kansas City, Missouri in 2017. The source of this new outbreak could be a similar product or something entirely different. E. coli can contaminate any type of food source.
Until the CDC identifies the cause of this outbreak, follow these tips to avoid exposure to E. coli bacteria.
- Wash your hands at every opportunity, but especially before eating, after visiting the restroom, after handling raw meat and eggs, and after petting animals. Make sure to wash for at least 20 seconds with soap and hot water.
- Wash produce thoroughly under running water prior to eating.
- Cook meat thoroughly.
- Clean and disinfect food preparation areas both before preparing food and after it touches raw produce, meat, and eggs.
- Avoid swallowing water when swimming anywhere – in swimming pools, lakes, and rivers.
- Do not consume unpasteurized dairy products.
- When cleaning and disinfecting restrooms, remember to disinfect door knobs and faucet handles.
- Do not eat raw cookie dough or any other dough product intended to be cooked.
- Seek medical advice for diarrheal illnesses.
- Pay close attention to CDC and/or FDA announcements of E. coli contaminated food.
How the CDC Investigates E. Coli Bacteria Outbreaks
As a consumer, it is particularly frustrating to know there is danger of E. coli bacteria, but to have no information about which products or brands to avoid in order to keep your family safe. The CDC is currently investigating the source of this outbreak using the data provided by the victims.
The agency must act quickly to gather evidence to track down outbreaks across state lines. The bulk of the fact-gathering must take place before the CDC can make a reliable announcement to the public. Their investigation involves gathering:
- Geographic information about outbreaks to look for patterns, possibly involving prior outbreaks of the same contaminant.
- Exposures, such as food sources, that victims of the outbreak may have in common.
- Information about clusters of victims who were in the same place, such as a restaurant, grocery store, or event.
- Genetic information about the bacteria that caused the illnesses to compare with other reports of sickness.
- Samples of food from homes of the victims or from places where they ate or shopped.
- Surface and product samples in locations all along the distribution chain including manufacturing plants, farms, restaurants, and retail locations.
With 44 reported cases in Kentucky alone, the CDC has a lot of data to gather and will hopefully soon be able to announce a suspected source of the E. coli bacteria currently making people sick.
What to Do if You Think You Ate E. Coli Contaminated Food
The symptoms contamination with E. coli bacteria usually appear within a week of consuming the product. People of any age can become infected with this particular strain of E. coli. Again, it is especially dangerous to small children and immune-compromised adults, but even healthy adults can become severely ill when exposed.
Seek medical attention right away for the following symptoms, which are characteristic of the O103 strain E. coli:
- Stomach cramps
- Diarrhea, perhaps bloody
- Low fever of less than 101 degrees
It is very important to seek medical attention as soon as possible. Normal E. coli illness lasts about 7 days, but that is when the symptoms of kidney failure from HUS will also appear. Just when it seems the patient is recovering from a mild E. coli illness, they descend into the symptoms of kidney failure.
Don’t risk the potentially fatal complications of this condition. While there is an active E. coli outbreak, seek medical attention for any illness with these symptoms If your doctor confirms E. coli infection, you can submit a report to the CDC and participate with their investigation to track down the source of the outbreak.
How a Bad Food Attorney Can Help
If you suspect that you have become ill due to E. coli bacteria, contact a bad food attorney to discuss your options. Whether or not the CDC can identify the overarching cause of this outbreak, an attorney can examine your medical records and experience and help determine if your illness was the result of an unsafe consumer product. If so, you may have a claim for financial compensation.
To find out more, contact Bad Food Recall by calling 877-534-5750, or complete our online contact form.