Georgia officials, just beginning their investigation of an E. coli outbreak in early June, were said to have been racing against the clock to solve the food poisonings before the epidemic could spread. There were 11 cases at the time across four southern states. The death of an infant in New Orleans was linked to at least ten other cases of E. coli illness in Georgia, Florida, Louisiana and Alabama. The largest cluster of five sickened people, ranging in age from 18 to 52, is centered in Atlanta, home to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. J. Patrick O’Neal, who is with the Georgia Department of Health, said:
We know that these cases are all linked, and that would suggest that there was a common source somewhere along the way. We just don’t know where.
The infant, Maelan Elizabeth Graffagnini, was 21 months old when she died at a hospital in New Orleans. Two others in the New Orleans area were also stricken at about the same time by the same strain of E. coli, known as 0145. The death of a young child is always difficult, but in this case it serves as a reminder of how serious E. coli is. Alabama public health officials have linked two cases to the outbreak. And a 22-year-old Florida woman’s illness has been traced to the same dangerous bacterium. Aside from the E. coli strain, all the cases have in common is that officials still have no idea what caused the illnesses.
Epidemiologists at CDC headquarters have been poring over data sent in from the states in search of a common factor that could pinpoint a cause. They believe the likely exposure to be a food source. But at press time this had yet to be confirmed. Unfortunately, quite often the contact source is not found. Those in public health are looking for any link between the affected people. What did they eat? Where did they go? Where did they shop? Because lives are at stake, it’s important to work around the clock on the matter.
It was said that for any E. coli outbreak at this time of year, suspicions immediately turn to undercooked ground beef. Safety experts advise consumers to cook ground beef to a temperature of 160 degrees. And, while they don’t know if that’s the problem with these cases, the CDC is reminding everyone to “wash their hands after handling poultry” and “clean all fruits and vegetables.” The period from April through September is what scientists call “high-prevalence season” for E. coli. As has been reported, E. coli are a common bacteria and not every strain is dangerous. But some, like those that carry the 0145 genetic fingerprint that is behind this outbreak in the four southern states, produce a deadly toxin known as shiga. This poison can cause violent reactions, including severe kidney damage and death.
Until quite recently, the federal government was not checking meat for the 0145 strain. But the U.S. Department of Agriculture, for the first time, began testing meat for six new strains of E. coli, including the strain causing this outbreak. In an unrelated case, a six-year-old boy in Millbury, Mass., died last month from kidney failure caused by E. coli. Massachusetts health officials said scientists have determined his illness was not caused by the same strain of E. coli as the clusters in the South. Officials in Tennessee said a recent E. coli case in that state was also unconnected.
Source: ABC News
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