US investigating source of deadly E. coli outbreak as Canada links its cases to lettuce
U.S. authorities said today that they continue to investigate a deadly multistate outbreak of E. coli infections that may be tied to romaine lettuce.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that 17 people in 13 states had been diagnosed with Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) O157:H7 infections.
"This pathotype is the one most commonly heard about in the news in association with foodborne outbreaks," the U.S. agency said on its website.
The illnesses were reported in California, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Vermont and Washington.
"Five people have been hospitalized, including one who died," Kate Fowlie, a CDC press officer, told ABC News today. "Two people have developed hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a type of kidney failure."
Authorities in Canada are also investigating an outbreak of E. coli infections in some of its provinces, the CDC said.
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In its news release, the Public Health Agency of Canada said it had a total of 41 cases of E. coli infections in an outbreak that involved five eastern provinces.
Canadian authorities said the outbreak had been linked to "exposure to romaine lettuce."
"The cause of contamination has not been identified. The outbreak appears to be ongoing, as illnesses linked to romaine lettuce continue to be reported," the Canadian agency said. "These illnesses indicate that contaminated romaine lettuce may still be on the market (including in restaurants, grocery stores and any establishments that serve food)."
Fowlie told ABC News today that the CDC is still collecting information to determine whether there is a food item in common among the sick people, including leafy greens and romaine.
"Preliminary results show that the type of E. coli making people sick in both countries is closely related genetically, meaning the ill people are more likely to share a common source of infection," the CDC said in its news release.
The U.S. agency said the Food and Drug Administration and several state were also involved in the probe. The CDC said, however, in its release that because it had not yet identified a source of the infections, it was unable to recommend whether U.S. residents should avoid a particular food.
"This investigation is ongoing, and more information will be released as it becomes available," the CDC said.
In the meantime, Consumer Reports experts have cautioned consumers to avoid romaine lettuce until the source of the outbreak has been uncovered.
"Even though we can't say with 100 percent certainty that romaine lettuce is the cause of the E. coli outbreak in the U.S., a greater degree of caution is appropriate given that lettuce is almost always consumed raw," James Rogers, director of Food Safety and Research at Consumer Reports, said in a report posted on the agency's website.