CDC to Help Investigate Largest E. coli O111 Outbreak in US History

The Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) is reporting that it is looking to interview over 300 people who ate at the Country Cottage restaurant in Locust Grove.  The 300 people sought for interviews ate at Country Cottage but did not become ill during the recent and massive <"">E. coli outbreak.  “In our efforts to establish if there is an association with particular food items and illness, we will be interviewing more persons to find those who ate at the Country Cottage and did not become ill,” said State Epidemiologist Kristy Bradley.  Over 200 people became sick and one person has died as a result of the rare E. coli O111 outbreak.

Bradley also said, “In an investigation of this scope, it is as important to collect information on those who did not get sick as those who did become ill.  We’ve determined that our statistical database does not adequately represent those who ate at the Country Cottage but did not become ill.”  Bradley indicated that state health officials have identified about 320 persons not previously interviewed who ate at the Country Cottage August 15-17, the days most persons who became ill ate there.  Those people will be contacted to see if they remember what they ate and if they later fell ill, she said.  “This information is necessary so that we can make the distinction between what might have been a popular food choice versus a valid association with illness,” Bradley said.

The OSDH also announced that it invited officials from the Foodborne and Diarrheal Diseases Branch of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to come to Oklahoma to participate in the investigation.  “This outbreak is of great interest to the CDC because it will add to knowledge on the range of disease that the E. coli O111 organism can cause,” Bradley said adding that federal officials will conduct medical reviews to review acute symptoms and complications in those patients who fell ill due to E. coli O111 and will also assist the OSDH staff in telephone interviews.

E. coli are a group of bacteria found in animal intestines and feces.  Some strains of Escherichia coli are necessary for digestion; some are harmful, even deadly.  The CDC identified a very rare and toxin-producing strain of E. coli—E. coli O111—in stool samples taken from victims of this outbreak.  According to the state Health Department, E. coli O111 has only been “implicated in three other disease outbreaks in the United States.”  Among those E. coli that may cause serious disease and death are a group called Verocytotoxigenic E. coli (VTEC); E. coli O111 is in this group of virulent, potentially deadly E. coli strains.  In most E. coli-related outbreaks, the virulent, sometimes deadly, E. coli O157:H7—also one of the VTEC strains—is generally to blame.  That is not the case in this outbreak, which represents the largest E. coli O111 outbreak in U.S. history.

Meanwhile, the Associated Press recently reported that during an August 23 surprise inspection at the Country Cottage restaurant, nine health code violations were identified.  Despite this, Country Cottage remained open on August 24, the day the one related death occurred.

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