Video from The Washington Post
Kentucky has about half of the cases in an outbreak of infections from a strain of E. coli bacteria that has also sickened people in Ohio, Virginia, Tennessee and Georgia. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday that the source of the 72 infections has not been identified.
The CDC said Kentucky had 36 cases, but the day before, the state Department for Public Health said 46 people in the state had been sickened by the O103 strain of E. coli, which is among those that produce Shiga toxin. Spokeswoman Barbara Fox said six had been hospitalized. The toxin usually sickens people two to five days after they swallow the germ, the health department says.
"Most people get diarrhea (often bloody), severe stomach cramps and vomiting," The CDC says. "Most people recover within a week, but some illnesses can last longer and be more severe. Talk to your doctor if you have symptoms of an E. coli infection. . . . Antibiotics are not recommended for patients with suspected E. coli infections until diagnostic testing can be performed and E. coli infection is ruled out."
The Mercer County Health Department said in a Facebook post, "These cases have been found in children and teenagers with an extensive exposure to fast food," but added, "The outbreak is not limited to young people."
That report, and the median age of those infected, 17, indicate that “It’s probably some convenience, fast food consumed by kids,” Bill Marler, a Seattle food-safety lawyer, told The Washington Post. "One silver lining, he added, is that people in this age range are typically healthy and not prone to further complications from E. coli," reports the Post's Michael Brice-Saddler.
Still, Marler said it is “concerning” that health officials haven't been able to trace the pathogen to a food source. “Given the size and the number of states that are involved, what you’re seeing is very unusual,” he told the Post. “If it was five people or 10 people, that’s a little harder to figure out. But when there’s 72 people and they’re being interviewed by epidemiologists, it’s pretty unusual you don’t have a culprit. The real question is, what do 72 people have in common over five states? It has to be something.”
"That something, Marler said, is likely a food or water product that people can’t remember they ate," the Post reports. "State and local health officials are required to interview ill patients and determine what they consumed in the week leading up to their symptoms, but recalling one’s dietary choices is often easier said than done, he said. Condiments, garnish, toppings, and spices can all contain traces of E. coli."
Marler said, “That’s probably why it’s taking longer to figure out, because people can’t remember what was in their meal.”
"Citing a CDC data set that dates to 1998, Marler noted outbreaks of E. coli O103 are relatively uncommon. Eighteen such outbreaks have been reported in the United States since 2000, with the highest number of reported illnesses being 29 during a 2010 outbreak in Minnesota. That makes this O103 outbreak by far the largest in recent memory, he said."
The state Department for Public Health says E. coli infections can be prevented by:
• Washing hands frequently for at least 20 seconds with soap and warm water, especially before eating, after going to the bathroom, handling raw meat and eggs, and after handling or petting animals;
• Thoroughly washing produce before eating;
• Thoroughly cooking meat;
• Cleaning and sanitizing food preparation areas;
• Avoiding swallowing lake or pool water;
• Drinking only pasteurized milk;
• Frequently cleaning and sanitizing restrooms, including door knobs and faucets; and
• Reporting diarrheal illnesses to your physician.
More information can be found here: https://www.cdc.gov/ecoli/ecoli-prevention.html.