Disease detectives from state and federal agencies are investigating an E. coli O157: H7 outbreak identified by New Jersey officials in recent days. The CDC reports people in seven states have been infected.

To see a larger version of this outbreak map, please click on the image.

Of the 17 confirmed victims, six have had symptoms so severe that they required hospitalization. One has developed hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a type of kidney failure that can have devastating life-long implications. No deaths have been confirmed, according to the outbreak announcement posted April 10 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Some officials in New Jersey have told news media in the state that Panera Bread is part of their outbreak investigation, but, they said a link has not been confirmed. The CDC’s statement stressed that a source has not yet been confirmed.

“The investigation is still ongoing and a specific food item, grocery store, or restaurant chain has not been identified as the source of infections,” according to the federal agency. “CDC is not recommending that consumers avoid any particular food at this time.Restaurants and retailers are not advised to avoid serving or selling any particular food.” 

Much of the information from New Jersey’s Department of Health and the CDC is very similar, but the state is reporting different numbers than the federal government. 

New Jersey’s undated outbreak update, posted in recent days, states that eight infected people have been confirmed, with all eight requiring hospitalization. The state reports five of those people have been discharged. 

“Laboratory testing is ongoing to link their illnesses to the outbreak using DNA fingerprinting,” the CDC reported Tuesday. “Some people may not be included in CDC’s case count because no bacterial isolates are available for the DNA fingerprinting needed to link them to the outbreak.”

The CDC reports that illnesses started on dates ranging from March 22-31. Victims range in age from 12 to 84 years. Among ill people, 65 percent are female. People who became sick after March 26 likely are not yet included in CDC’s outbreak statistics because it takes two to four weeks from initial diagnosis to confirm infections and report them to federal officials.

In addition to the CDC and state public health officials, staff from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service are working on the outbreak investigation.

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