The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have now identified 84 cases across four states in an ongoing E. coli outbreak. But the agency is still working to find the food source of the outbreak.
Of the 84 people sickened in the outbreak, 38 have been hospitalized, the CDC said Thursday. Cases have been reported in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana and Pennsylvania. No deaths have been reported in connection to the outbreak.
Last week, the agency noted that "many sick people reported eating sandwiches with romaine lettuce at Wendy’s restaurants in Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania before getting sick. Based on this information, Wendy’s is taking the precautionary measure of removing the romaine lettuce being used in sandwiches from restaurants in that region."
Of the 62 patients interviewed, 52 reported eating at a Wendy’s within a week of their illness starting. People reported illnesses starting between July 26 and Aug. 9, the CDC says.
"Investigators are working to confirm whether romaine lettuce is the source of this outbreak, and whether romaine lettuce used in Wendy’s sandwiches was served or sold at other businesses. Wendy’s is fully cooperating with the investigation," the CDC said.
The CDC isn't advising that the public avoid Wendy's restaurants or stop purchasing romaine lettuce, as Wendy's is taking precautionary measures to prevent further illness, and there's no evidence that the source of the E. coli is romaine lettuce sold in grocery stores or other restaurants.
According to the CDC, most people infected with E. coli experience severe stomach cramps, vomiting and diarrhea, sometimes bloody. Fever and dehydration can also be signs of the illness. Symptoms usually begin three to four days after ingesting the bacteria. Some people infected by E. coli recover without medical care within a week or so while others develop a type of kidney failure that can require hospitalization. Eight patients in the ongoing outbreak, all in Michigan, have reported a type of kidney failure.
E. coli, short for Escherichia coli, is a bacteria found in the intestines of people and animals and is mostly harmless, according to the CDC. But some E. coli can cause illness and can be transmitted through contaminated water or food, or through contact with animals or people.
Although there are at least six types of E. coli bacteria that can cause illness, the most common strain, and the one driving the recent outbreak, is the Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC). The ages of people infected by STEC in the outbreak range from 6 to 91. (Young children and the elderly are more likely to develop serious illness from E. coli.)
To prevent getting sick from E. coli, the CDC recommends these food safety steps:
- Cleaning surfaces, utensils, etc. while cooking. Rinse fruits and veggies under water before using.
- Separate foods that won't be cooked from raw meat, seafood, poultry, etc.
- Cook all food to a temperature that will kill germs.
- Refrigerate perishable foods within two hours.
The CDC also noted that the true number of infections in the outbreak is likely higher than the data they have at the moment.
If you are experiencing E. coli symptoms, the CDC urges you to call a health care provider immediately and report the illness to local or state health departments, as well as write down everything that you ate in the past week. The investigation into a possible cause is still ongoing, and the CDC has said that, once it identifies the source, it will issue more detailed advice for people and businesses.