Federal investigators have stepped in to handle an outbreak of E. coli infections in Ohio and Michigan.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced this afternoon there are 29 patients confirmed in the outbreak with nine having been hospitalized. No deaths have been reported.

As of the posting of the outbreak announcement a source for the E. coli had not been determined. However, the CDC reported that laboratory tests have shown that the patients are infected with the same type of E. coli, suggesting that they were exposed to the pathogen from the same source.

Investigators have identified 15 patients in Michigan and 14 in Ohio. They range in age from 6 to 91 years, with a median age of 21 years, with 38 percent being female. Illnesses confirmed so far started on dates ranging from July 26 to Aug. 6.

“Michigan and Ohio have both reported large increases in the number of E. coli infections in their states. Some of these illnesses have not yet been reported to the PulseNet system, but investigators are working quickly to add them to PulseNet to determine if they may be part of this outbreak,” according to the CDC.

In an announcement yesterday, Michigan officials said their state has had 98 cases of E. coli infections since the beginning of August. That is compared to 20 for the same time period in 2021.

The true number of sick people in this outbreak is likely higher than the number reported, and the outbreak may not be limited to the states with known illnesses, according to the CDC. This is because some of the recent illnesses have not yet be reported to PulseNet as it usually takes 3 to 4 weeks to determine if a sick person is part of an outbreak. In addition, some people recover without medical care and are not tested for E. coli. 

State and local public health officials are interviewing people about the foods they ate in the week before they got sick. Public health officials in both states are asking the people with symptoms of E. coli infections to seek medical attention immediately and report any illnesses with symptoms of E. Coli to their local and state health care officials.

Whole genome sequencing is being used by the CDC to determine whether illnesses are part of the outbreak. This type of testing provides a DNA fingerprint for investigators to compare to the outbreak strain of the pathogen.

About E. coli infections
Anyone who has developed symptoms of E. coli infection should seek medical attention immediately. 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, pregnant women 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.