As of today, another 19 patients have been added to the toll in an E. coli outbreak traced to ground beef, bringing the total number of people with laboratory-confirmed infections to almost 200.

First announced by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on April 5, the outbreak has grown from 72 people in five states to 196 people across 10 states. Two companies have recalled ground beef in relation to the outbreak. Almost 80 percent of the victims specifically recall eating ground beef in the days before becoming sick.

Disease detectives from several states, the CDC and the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) continue to collect samples from ground beef and from lab test samples of patients. The multistate investigation began on March 28 when officials in Kentucky and Georgia notified CDC of the outbreak, according to the agency’s updated food safety alert.

Tennessee investigators confirmed the outbreak strain of E. coli O103 in ground beef from an unnamed restaurant where people ate before becoming ill. 

However, the CDC continues to report that ill people handled or ate ground beef from a variety of sources in addition to restaurants.

“Ill people bought or ate ground beef from several different grocery stores and restaurants. Many ill people bought large trays or chubs of ground beef from grocery stores and used the meat to make dishes like spaghetti sauce and sloppy joes,” according to the CDC’s renewed public health alert today.

The two recalls so for are as follows. The ongoing investigation could result in more recalls, according to officials with the FSIS.

K2D Foods, doing business as Colorado Premium Foods, a Carrolton, GA, company, recalled 113,424 pounds of raw ground beef. The shipped to distributors in Port Orange, FL, and Norcross, GA, for further distribution to restaurants. The recall notice did not provide information regarding specific restaurants or other distributors that received the recalled beef. 

Grant Park Packing of Franklin Park, IL, recalled 53,200 pounds of raw ground beef that had been shipped to Minnesota for further distribution and Kentucky for institutional use. The recall notice did not include information about what distributors of foodservice operations received the recalled beef.

Consumers, retailers, foodservice operators and distributors are urged to check to see if they have the recalled ground beef in their freezers. Freezing does not kill E. coli bacteria. If ground beef that is on hand is not in its original packaging that shows identifying information, it should be discarded.

With the addition of confirmed outbreak patients, the length of the outbreak continues to grow. As of today, the CDC is reporting the first known patient became sick on March 1 with the most recent patient having become sick on April 19. In the initial food safety alert from CDC the illness onset dates ranged from March 2 through March 29.

More outbreak patients are likely to be identified because of the lag time between when a person becomes ill, through the testing and test confirmation steps, and then through the public health reporting system. People who became sick after March 21 might not yet have been added to the outbreak toll, according to the CDC.

Victims in the ongoing outbreak range in age from less than 1 year to 84 years old with a median age of 19. Of those with complete information available, 52 percent are female, 28 percent have been admitted to hospitals, and two have developed a life-threatening form of kidney failure called hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). 

Symptoms of E. coli infections
Anyone who has eaten ground beef in recent weeks and developed symptoms of E. coli infection should seek medical attention, according to public health officials. Specific laboratory tests are required to diagnose E. coli infections because the symptoms can mimic other illnesses.

The symptoms of Shiga toxin-producing (STEC) E. coli infections vary for each person but often include severe stomach cramps and bloody diarrhea. If there is fever, it is usually not very high, less than 101 degrees F or 38.5 degrees C. Most people get better within a week. Some infections are very mild, but others are severe or even life-threatening.

Some people, especially children, who are diagnosed with E. coli infections develop a potentially life-threatening complication, known as hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS).

Symptoms of HUS include fever, abdominal pain, feeling very tired, decreased frequency of urination, small unexplained bruises or bleeding, and pallor. Some patients who develop HUS suffer permanent damage or die. People with HUS should be hospitalized because their kidneys may stop working and they may also develop other serious problems such as hypertension, chronic kidney disease, and neurologic problems.

This condition can occur among patients of any age but is most common in children under 5 years old, older adults, and other people with suppressed or undeveloped immune systems.

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