At least one case of E. coli O157:H7 in Brazos County, TX, is being investigated by local health officials, who don’t yet know the source of the pathogen. The Brazos County Health Department says a solo patient, not an outbreak, is involved. E. coli O157:H7 is often a precursor to kidney failure and even death in severe cases. Local restaurants where the E. coli victim dined are being asked to self-monitor by practicing safe food handing and keeping track of lot numbers that were used during the possible exposure period. brazoslogo_406x250In the past five years the average number of illnesses caused by Shiga-toxin producing E. coli in Texas has been about 500 cases, ranging from 250-500. The majority of cases or outbreaks where a food source has been identified have involved high risk foods, such as raw or undercooked meat and raw milk. Past large outbreaks involving cases in Texas have been associated with ready-to-eat frozen food products and meals, as well as packaged refrigerated cookie dough. Escherichia coli (E. coli) are gram negative bacteria commonly found in the digestive tracts of animals, including humans, where they assist with normal digestive processes. While most E. coli are not associated with disease, some are responsible for causing infections, such as urinary tract infections, as well as gastrointestinal and respiratory illness. Those varieties responsible for causing diarrhea do so through the production of several potent toxins that damage the intestinal lining in various ways. In severe cases, infections can also lead to a life-threatening condition called hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), which involves renal failure and hemolytic anemia. The most common gastrointestinal disease-causing strains are known as Shiga toxin-producing E.coli (STEC), based on their presence of the Shiga-toxin producing verotoxin genes. Of the STEC group most cases and outbreaks historically have involved the serotype O157:H7. However, with the development of better diagnostic tools, other serotypes and pathogenic groups of E. coli are now also becoming increasingly linked to sporadic cases and outbreaks. The county seat of Bryan long with College Station are located in Brazos County,  with a population of about 200,000. (To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)