Romaine E. coli O157:H7 Outbreak: The pieces are coming together

Scientist Karen Xavier holds a petri dish containing a stool sample of small bacteria colonies in Denver. Samples like this one are examined to try to find the source of the E. coli outbreak

E. Coli Infections: Contaminated Romaine Lettuce Sickens 98, Hospitalizes 46

Up until now, health problems consist of 18 cases in Pennsylvania, 16 cases in California, 10 in Idaho, 8 cases each in Alaska and Montana, 7 in New Jersey, 5 cases each in Arizona and Washington, 3 cases each in MI and OH, 2 cases each in Colorado, Connecticut and NY, and a single case each in Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia and Wisconsin. The most recent case involved a person becoming sick April 12, but the CDC notes that sicknesses since April 5 may not have been reported yet to authorities. Forty-six people out of 87 on which information is available - or 53 percent - have been hospitalized.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Thursday there was one case in Mississippi.

No deaths have been reported in this outbreak.

"We have many lines of evidence suggesting to us right now that all of these illnesses are connected in some way through romaine grown in the Yuma region [of Arizona]", Matthew Wise, the CDC deputy branch chief for Outbreak Response, said during a Friday news briefing. Since product labels do not usually identify the growing regions, don't buy or eat romaine lettuce if you don't know where it was grown. That includes all kinds of lettuce, whether chopped, whole-head or in a salad mix.

"Out of an abundance of caution, and in accordance with the CDC Advisory, all products which may contain any romaine lettuce from the Yuma, AZ area have been removed from our shelves". According to the FDA, this outbreak is more severe because of the type of Shiga toxin produced by this strain: STX2 only. Although most recover in one week, it could lead to kidney failure.

Harris said there is "no evidence that other lettuce or lettuce outside the region are contaminated".

At least 98 people across 22 states have contracted the bacteria from romaine lettuce as of Thursday, the agencies said in a teleconference call.

The FDA said the restaurants used bagged, chopped romaine lettuce to make salads, and traceback "does not indicate that Harrison Farms is the source of the chopped romaine that sickened these people". Romaine lettuce is the only common ingredient identified among the salads eaten by those who got sick. Officials have not found the origin of the contaminated vegetables.

"This is serious, and everyone should avoid romaine", Wise said, adding that the advice to consumers is for everyone - not limited to specific groups such as those most at risk for severe illness. By April 10, the CDC had issued its first announcement about the E. coli illness outbreak.

The CDC also is investigating more than two dozen other farms.

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