January 20, 2019

5 dead, almost 200 sickened in romaine lettuce outbreak

04 June 2018, 01:49 | Randall Craig

Getty Images iStock

Getty Images  iStock

Health officials announced on Friday that five people have now died after consuming tainted lettuce from Arizona, making this the nation's largest E. coli outbreak in a decade.

Twenty five more people have confirmed to have contracted the disease who also reported eating romaine lettuce in the week before their illness started.

Canada's Public Health Agency has also recorded six cases of E. coli "with a similar genetic fingerprint" to the U.S. infections.

The growing season in Yuma, Arizona, where officials believe the contaminated lettuce was grown, has been over for more than a month.

"Any immediate risk is gone".

As of May 30 the investigation figures show 197 people infected with the outbreak strain of E. coli O157:H7 have been reported from 35 states. It takes two to three weeks from when a person becomes sick with E. coli for the case to be reported to the CDC. A Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health study published in Public Health Reports in April of this year estimated that depending on the severity of the outbreak, a single foodborne illness incident can cost a fast food restaurant between $4,000 (no loss of revenue, fines or legal fees) to $1.9 million (fines, revenue lost, legal fees).

"Eighty-nine people out of 187 with available information (48 percent) have been hospitalized, including 26 who developed a type of kidney failure called hemolytic uremic syndrome", the CDC said.

Sickness can begin three to four days after swallowing E. coli, with symptoms of diarrhea, severe stomach cramps and vomiting. "However, the FDA is committed to investigating the source of the outbreak and working with industry to help prevent similar events in the future". These steps can include suppliers, distributors and processors where the lettuce was chopped and bagged, and then back to the farm or farms that could have grown the lettuce that ended up in those bags.

So far, they said, "there isn't a simple or obvious explanation for how this outbreak occurred within the supply chain". Although the deaths and cases continue to add up, the CDC assure that it is now safe to eat romaine lettuce again. Most people recover within a few weeks, but some suffer permanent damage or die.

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