Aetna’s Hartford Office Investigated for E. coli, Food Areas Previously Cited

Five Aetna employees from its Hartford, Connecticut office have fallen ill with <"">E. coli over the past several weeks, reports Now, city and state health inspectors there are researching the situation and interviewing about 40 cafeteria workers in an attempt to locate the infection’s source, said the Courant, citing Hartford’s environmental health director, Martha Page.

According to the Courant, Aetna’s Hartford office prepares food at its cafeteria and kiosk; however, health officials are unable to confirm that the E. coli originated there. “We don’t have an answer to that question yet, but that is not unusual at this point,” Page said, quoted the Courant. Eye Witness News 3/WFSB reported that the Connecticut Department of Health said the problem could have originated in the cafeteria, which has had “several” violations, said the Courant.

The cafeteria passed its recent inspection on March 12 and remains open according to Fred Laberge, Aetna spokesman, reported the Courant; the salad bar was closed yesterday “as a precaution.” The kiosk, which was inspected on February 26 had sufficient violations and required a re-inspection on March 12, which it passed. Eye Witness News 3/WFSB reported that health inspection reports confirmed several violations at the Aetna cafeteria and also cited a disturbing report that was filed following a very recent health inspection—two weeks ago—in which the inspector stated that a dead mouse was found, as were “rags used without sanitizer and uncovered foods” which were “contaminated with airborne dust from construction.” Eye Witness News also reported that, in 2008, the company was cited for not having soap at its hand-washing station.

The Courant said that E. coli cases have been reported at the Aetna office over the past three-to-four weeks, with the most recent reported about one week ago; of the five sickened, four were hospitalized. Department of Public Health officials have asked Aetna employees to take an online survey, said the Courant, which noted that Compass Group operates the cafeteria, according to Laberge.

E. coli may cause fatal blood poisoning, cystitis, deadly septicemia, and death. Symptoms of E. coli infection include stomach cramps and watery diarrhea that may turn bloody within one to three days. E. coli generally taints meat through improper butchering and processing practices and, once released in the body, produces the Shiga-producing toxins that have been linked to kidney damage in young children, and can also lead to kidney failure and death.

In recent years the transmission route for E. coli is shifting and not always caused by meat consumption, with outbreaks occurring more and more with direct and indirect animal contact—zoonotic contact—such as at petting zoos, said the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Also, consuming contaminated produce, milk, or juice or swimming in or drinking sewage-contaminated water can pass the E. coli infection, as can poor hygiene or hand-washing habits when bacteria in diarrheal stools are involved. According to CDC estimates, there are over 70,000 cases of E. coli infection and 61 deaths linked to E. coli occurring in the U.S. annually.

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