Deer May be Cause Of Strawberry E. coli Contamination

A new outbreak of <"">E. coli O157:H7 was announced by Oregon Public Health officials this week after at least 10 people were sickened and 1 died. The outbreak was linked to fresh strawberries from Jaquith Strawberry Farm in Newberg.

Now, said The Associated Press (AP), deer might be at the root of the outbreak, according to state health officials who hope to find out this week. Soil and deer dropping samples have been collected from Jaquith fields and are being tested, said the AP. Results are expected in a few days, said Dr. Paul Cieslak, an epidemiologist with the Oregon Public Health Division.

While health experts have been aware as far back as 1997 that deer can be carriers of E. coli, investigators in this case do not understand why the bacteria has never shown up in strawberries in the United States prior to this outbreak, especially since the pathogen has been linked to other produce and produce products, including alfalfa sprouts, spinach, and apple cider, said the AP.

“Strawberry fields are out there all over the place. Deer are out there all over the place. Why we haven’t had an outbreak, I couldn’t tell you,” Cieslak said. “Believe me, we are scratching our heads about it, too,” the AP reported. In 1997, a study was published that confirmed a deer carrying E. coli had infected a family who consumed jerky made from the animal, said Cieslak, wrote the AP.

A single E. coli strain has been confirmed in 13 cases of E. coli. Of the confirmed cases, six people have been hospitalized, and one elderly woman in Washington County died from kidney failure associated with E. coli O157:H7 infection. All of those who fell ill reported being sick between July 10 and July 29. Two people have suffered from kidney failure, said the AP, citing Cieslak.

Jaquith Strawberry Farm produced the strawberries in July when it completed its strawberry season. And, while Jaquith strawberries are no longer on the market, the Health Authority is particularly concerned with strawberries that have been frozen or made into uncooked jam. Jaquith strawberries were sold to buyers, who then resold the fruit at roadside stands and farmers’ markets. Jaquith has recalled its products.

Health officials are urging consumers who may have purchased strawberries grown on the Jaquith Strawberry Farm to dispose of the potentially contaminated fruit. The Oregon Public Health’s communicable disease section is collaborating with county public health officials and the Oregon Department of Agriculture.

E. coli is a potentially deadly pathogen, and deadly strain 0157:H7 is certainly the most frequently occurring. E. coli are a group of bacteria found in animal intestines and feces. While some strains are necessary for digestion; some are harmful, deadly, and toxin producing and part of a group of E. coli called Verocytotoxigenic E. coli, or VTECs, also known as Shiga-producing E. coli. Strain E. coli O157:H7 falls into this category and is a potentially deadly bacterium that can cause bloody diarrhea, dehydration, and, in the most severe cases, kidney failure.

The very young, seniors, and persons with weak immune systems are the most susceptible to foodborne illness.

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