Officials in two states have confirmed they are working with federal officials on an investigation into E. coli illnesses linked to lettuce served by a national restaurant chain.
Spokespeople with the Nevada and Vermont state health departments say the agencies are working with the federal agencies on the investigation. Both the CDC and the FDA confirmed for Food Safety News on Friday that they have an open investigation into the outbreak, which had not previously been made public. A source close to the investigation says the implicated restaurant chain is Subway.
Health department officials in the other two outbreak states, Maine and New Hampshire, did not respond to requests for information about the outbreak and investigation. Vermont had five confirmed patients, Maine had four and New Hampshire and Nevada each had one.
The Vermont spokeswoman echoed what federal officials said Friday in regard to why the public had not been informed about the outbreak when it was discovered. She said there wasn’t any actionable information for the public and that public risk has now passed.
However, as with the FDA’s statement, the Vermont spokeswoman said officials became aware of outbreak illnesses in November but then said that by the time the outbreak was discovered in December the illnesses had stopped.
The FDA and CDC are being notably silent on the outbreak and ongoing investigation.
The outbreak marks the second time in the recent months when the FDA and CDC did not go public with information about an outbreak.
On Halloween, Food Safety News learned of an E. coli O157:H7 outbreak that the two federal agencies had not revealed to the public. It ended in September and involved romaine lettuce.
Spokespeople from FDA and CDC said at the time that because they believed all of the implicated romaine had passed expiration dates by the time the outbreak was discovered, agency officials did not think the public needed to know.
About E. coli infections
Anyone who has eaten at Subway restaurants and developed symptoms of E. coli infection should seek medical attention and tell their doctor about their possible exposure to the bacteria. Specific tests are required to diagnose the infections, which can mimic other illnesses.
The symptoms of E. coli infections vary for each person but often include severe stomach cramps and diarrhea, which is often bloody. Some patients may also have a fever. Most patients recover within five to seven days. Others can develop severe or life-threatening symptoms and complications, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
About 5 to 10 percent of those diagnosed with E. coli infections develop a potentially life-threatening kidney failure complication, known as a 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.
Many people with HUS recover within a few weeks, but some suffer permanent injuries or death. This condition can occur among people of any age but is most common in children younger than five years old because of their immature immune systems, older adults because of deteriorating immune systems, and people with compromised immune systems such as cancer patients.
People who experience HUS symptoms should immediately seek emergency medical care. People with HUS will likely be hospitalized because the condition can cause other serious and ongoing problems such as hypertension, chronic kidney disease, brain damage, and neurologic problems.
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