Philadelphia, a city already dealing with one public health crisis, now must battle an E. coli outbreak.

As many as 14  new E. coli infections in Philadelphia may involve ” shared restaurant exposure,” according to the Philadelphia Department of Public Health. However, health officials in the City of Brotherly Love are not yet ready to name any specific restaurants that may be associated with the outbreak.

The 14 E. coli patients all became ill since Aug. 30. The 14 range in age from 7 to 90 years old. All “presented with signs of acute gastroenteritis with bloody and non-bloody diarrhea,” the department reported.

“Hopefully this cluster of illnesses does not grow and that the victims recover quickly,” said William Marler, managing partner at Marler Clark and publisher of Food Safety News.  “It is important that health official link the illnesses to a specific food item as quickly as possible, so a recall can occur to limit the spread of the E. coli bacteria,” added Marler.

The city health officials said the illnesses were due to one of five Shiga-toxin E. coli strains. Symptoms often begin with non-bloody diarrhea, which develops in two to three days into bloody diarrhea. Severe abdominal pain and fever may follow.

People often are exposed to E. coli bacteria by consuming contaminated food and beverage products or through contact with an infected person. Recent outbreaks are associated with beef and leafy greens along with direct contact with animals.

Hemolytic-uremic syndrome (HUS), a dangerous disease involving blood vessels in the kidneys. It can cause acute renal dysfunction. HUS frequently develops from E. coli infections, most often in children under the age of five.

Philadelphia’s E. coli outbreak comes on the heels of the city’s month-old public health emergency for Hepatitis A.

The hepatitis emergency was declared after city health officials counted 154 acute hepatitis A infections through Aug. 1 with the investigation of several other reports underway. Hepatitis A is usually spread when the virus enters the body through the mouth from contact with objects, food, or drinks that have been contaminated by the feces (poop) of an infected person.

Since the summer of 2018, the city Health Department has conducted extensive outreach to raise awareness and provide hepatitis A vaccine and personal hygiene items to high-risk populations and potentially exposed persons living in neighborhoods with increased disease burden.

The Health Department has also been working with Prevention Point Philadelphia, homeless shelters, hospital emergency departments, the Philadelphia Department of Prisons, and other City agencies who serve at-risk populations to expand outreach, promote vaccination, and increase the Department’s access to these high-risk groups, and has conducted street outreach to interact with these populations to directly offer hepatitis A vaccine.

The Health Department has also issued six health alerts since the Fall of 2017 to the health care community to raise awareness about national and local increases and provide instructions on how to recognize and prevent infection.

The department has been providing free vaccinations at designated locations throughout the city.  The health officials say the best way to prevent hepatitis A is through vaccination. Frequent handwashing with soap and warm water after using the bathroom, changing a diaper, or before preparing food can help prevent the spread of hepatitis A.

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