Officials in Michigan are investigating almost 100 cases of E. coli infections in the state including a cluster of illnesses reported this past week in Ottawa County.

The 98 cases reported so far this month mark a huge jump in cases during the same time period in 2021 when 20 patients were reported from across the state, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. As of Monday officials were reporting 18 patients in the current cluster in Ottawa County.

“The current investigation is in the early stages. Laboratory results have linked some of these cases to each other,” according to a statement from the department. “The most commonly identified STEC (Shiga toxin-producing E. coli) in North America is E. coli O157:H7. STEC has been connected to the recent increase in infections.”

While reports of E. coli illnesses typically increase during the warmer summer months, this significant jump in cases is alarming, said Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian, Michigan’s chief medical executive.

Meanwhile, public health officials in Ohio continue their investigation into a cluster of 18 patients with E. coli infections in Wood County. A county official told the Sentinel-Tribune newspaper that tests for five of the patients have been confirmed by the state health department as being of the same serotype, but she did not say what the serotype is.

“That tells us that there may be a link between cases. Approximately 30 percent of Shiga toxin E. coli (STEC) cases are this serotype, so it’s not definitive but does help us identify next steps to pursue in the investigation,” Beth Peery, public health information and education manager, told the newspaper.

Peery and other officials from the Ohio department of health and the Wood County department did not respond to a Food Safety News request for additional details.

The Wood County health department has not received any new reports of E. coli illnesses since Monday, according to the Sentinel-Tribune. The most recent onset date is Aug. 9. The number of patients jumped from 15 this past Thursday to 18 as of Monday. It can take several days or sometimes weeks from the initial diagnosis of an E. coli infection for it to be reported to county and state officials because of the time it takes for testing. 

The 18 cases were confirmed since early August compared to a total of 27 cases from Jan. 1, 2016, to June 30, 2022, according to Wood County officials.

Officials in both Michigan and Ohio are requesting the public to watch for signs of E. coli infections and report them to their doctors and local health departments.

About E. coli infections
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 U.S. 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.

(Click here to sign up for a free Food Safety News subscription.)