The number of people ill with the same strain of E. coli associated with the now-closed Matador restaurant in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood has doubled, and the outbreak may be more far-flung than first reported. At least 10 people have been sickened to date, up from the original five, according to Public Health — Seattle & King County. The agency is chasing down a strain of E. coli that has not been seen before in Washington state and which the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicated has also infected people from Colorado, Idaho, and New York. The initial outbreak reports in Seattle were associated with The Matador after it was forced to close on Sept. 9. The onset of those illnesses occurred between Aug. 22 and Sept. 6. Three of the initial five people sickened required hospitalization, and one, a 16-year-old girl, required treatment for hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a serious complication of E. coli infection which affects the kidneys. Since reporting that the original five have recovered, Seattle & King County health officials became aware of five additional people who became sickened with the same strain of E. coli as the people who ate at The Matador. It is a Shiga toxin-producing strain of E. coli O157:H7. “We are aware of two other Washington state residents (who are not King County residents) and three out-of-state residents who are positive for E. coli with the same strain of E. coli as the King County cases we previously reported on,” the agency stated in a Sept. 12 update. “Investigation of those cases is ongoing by their respective health departments. We just became aware that one of the out-of-state cases had a meal at the Matador restaurant in Ballard during the exposure period. Links to Matador have not been identified among the other out-of-county cases. We are not aware of links to restaurants other than Matador at this time,” it added. The genetic fingerprint, or “PFGE,” is similar across all these cases. With the last known date for someone who got sick eating at The Matador being Aug. 22, health officials said it is likely the outbreak is over. It remains possible, however, that public health authorities could find people who became ill later in August or early September. That’s because a person with an E. coli infection can take a week or more to develop symptoms. Then the ill person needs to go to his/her doctor. A stool sample is taken, which is sent to the lab, and it can take several days for the results to become available. The lab, or the physician, then reports positive results to public health officials, who attempt to contact the patient and conduct one or more interviews. Frequently, officials don’t reach the person on the first attempt and they need to interview individuals more than one time to identify commonalities. Four of the five cases in King County did not report eating at The Matador when they were initially interviewed by public health staff. “As soon as we were able to determine that there was a link to Matador restaurant, we inspected and suspended the permit to operate,” the department stated. “We found that there was the potential for cross-contamination based on inadequate cleaning of the food processing machines (e.g., food processor) and there was inadequate cleaning of some produce. We do not know if either of these contributed to the outbreak.” Seattle public health officials said they will continue to collect information from the people who have gotten sick. They are working with the Washington State Department of Health to gather information on out-of-county cases and have reported preliminary findings to CDC. “We will be taking environmental samples at the restaurant to see if it’s possible to identify a source product, but at this time, we do not have a suspect ingredient. Items on the menu share many ingredients in common, so it’s possible we may not be able to positively identify the source of the E. coli. We are also collecting information to ensure that no employees are working with possible E. coli infections; preliminary reports are that no workers have been ill,” the agency’s update stated. “At this time, there is no action members of the general public need to take in relation to this outbreak. However, any one who gets bloody diarrhea, even if they didn’t eat at Matador, should consult a health care provider,” the department concluded.
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