Dozens sickened in mysterious E. coli outbreak

Health officials are working to identify the cause of an E. coli outbreak that’s sickened dozens of people.

So far, 72 people have been infected with E. coli O103, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Eight people got sick enough that they had to be hospitalized. No deaths have been reported.

The CDC says the investigation is still ongoing and officials have not yet identified a specific food item, grocery store, or restaurant chain as the source of infections.

E. coli bacteria, naturally found in many animals’ digestive tracts, can contaminate many different kinds of foods. Over the past year, E. coli prompted widespread recalls of romaine lettuce, but that outbreak was declared over in January. Previous outbreaks have involved products ranging from ground beef to spinach to alfalfa sprouts and even flour.

At this time, the CDC is not recommending that consumers avoid any particular food item due to E. coli, while health officials continue to investigate the source of the illnesses.

Signs of an E. coli infection

Symptoms of E. coli infection include diarrhea, which can be bloody, severe stomach cramps and vomiting. People typically get sick two to eight days after swallowing the germ.

E. coli infections typically clear up within a week, but more serious cases can lead to a type of kidney failure called hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS).

Symptoms of HUS include fever, abdominal pain, pale skin tone, fatigue and irritability, unexplained bruises or bleeding from the nose and mouth, and decreased urination. These complications are more common in young children under 5, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems.

Anyone experiencing these symptoms should seek medical care immediately.

How to prevent E. coli

The CDC recommends the following steps to reduce the risk of E. coli infections:

  • Wash hands frequently, especially after using the restroom or changing diapers, before and after preparing or eating food, and after contact with animals.
  • Cook meats thoroughly to kill harmful germs. Steaks and roasts should be cooked to at least 145˚F. Let rest for 3 minutes after you remove meat from the grill or stove. Cook ground beef and pork to at least 160˚F. Use a food thermometer to check the temperature of the meat.
  • Don’t cross-contaminate food preparation areas by thoroughly washing hands, counters, cutting boards, and utensils after they touch raw meat.
  • Wash fruits and vegetables before eating, unless the package says the contents have been washed.
  • Avoid raw milk, other unpasteurized dairy products, and unpasteurized juices.
  • Don’t prepare food or drink for others when you are sick.

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