Header graphic for print

Food Safety News

Breaking news for everyone's consumption

One dead; E. coli outbreak linked to romaine lettuce spreading

One person is dead, two more provinces are reporting illnesses and nine more people are confirmed sick, but no one has recalled any products, named any brands, or identified any retailers who sold fresh romaine lettuce that is implicated in an E. coli outbreak in Canada.

The Public Health Agency of Canada reported the death and additional victims late Thursday. The agency first acknowledged the E. coli O157:H7 outbreak Monday, reporting 21 people confirmed sick across three provinces, Quebec, New Brunswick and Labrador and Newfoundland.

Canadian health officials added Ontario and Nova Scotia to the outbreak map Thursday when they increased the confirmed victim count to 30. The outbreak update did not indicate what province had recorded the death.

The most recent person became sick on Dec. 2, suggesting the implicated romaine lettuce could still be in the stream of commerce. Canadian officials have not reported whether the romaine lettuce identified by victims was whole head, leaves, hearts or chopped.

“Many individuals who became sick reported eating romaine lettuce before their illnesses occurred,” according to the outbreak from the federal health agency. “The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is working with public health officials to determine the source of the romaine lettuce that ill individuals were exposed to.

“At this time, there are no product recalls associated with this outbreak. The outbreak investigation is ongoing, and this public health notice will be updated on a regular basis as the investigation evolves.”

It is likely additional victims will be identified because it can take up to 10 days after exposure for symptoms to develop. Then, it can take several weeks from the time a person becomes ill to when the illness is reported and testing confirms a link to the outbreak, according to the public health agency.

Of the 19 people for whom specific information is available, illness onset dates range from Nov. 16 through Dec. 2. A dozen of the victims have had symptoms so severs that they required hospitalization. The age range of the victims is 4 to 80 years old.

The public health agency notice does not indicate when federal officials became aware of the outbreak or why it was not revealed to the public until Dec. 11.

Advice to consumers
Although anyone can contract an E. coli infection, pregnant women, people with weakened immune systems, young children and older adults are most at risk for developing fatal infections or severe complications.

Anyone who has eaten romaine lettuce and developed symptoms of E. coli infection should immediately seek medical attention. Specific lab test are required to diagnose E. coli infection.

Symptoms can include nausea, vomiting, headache, mild fever, severe stomach cramps, and watery or bloody diarrhea. The onset of symptoms can range from 1 to 10 days after exposure.

“Some do not get sick at all, though they can still spread the infection to others. Others may feel as though they have a bad case of upset stomach. In some cases, individuals become seriously ill and must be hospitalized,” according to the health agency notice.

People who develop hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) need intensive medical treatment, usually including dialysis for kidney failure.

(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)

© Food Safety News