A fatal four-state E. coli outbreak, that involved the death of a baby girl, is now under investigation. Spanning four southern states, the outbreak has been linked to 11 cases.
Officials in Georgia are just beginning their investigation of the multi-state outbreak. “We know that these cases are all linked, and that would suggest that there was a common source somewhere along the way,” J. Patrick O’Neal of the Georgia Department of Health, told ABC News. “We just don’t know where.”
The death of Maelan Elizabeth Graffagnini, who was 21 months old when she died last week at a hospital in New Orleans, has been linked to 10 other E. coli cases that have been reported in Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, and Alabama, said ABC News. Five people, age 18-52, were sickened in Georgia, the largest infection cluster in this outbreak, to date. The E. coli strain 0145 is the known culprit. “The death of a young child is always difficult, and it serves as a reminder of how serious E. coli is,” Dr. Takeisha Davis of the Louisiana Health Department told ABC News.
Although the strain is known, the cause remains elusive. Epidemiologists at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) are reviewing states’ data to try and figure out from where the outbreak originated. “The likely exposure is a food source,” Louisiana Department of Health spokesman Tom Gasparoli told ABC News. “But this has yet to be confirmed. Often, the contact source is not found,” Gasparoli added.
“They’re going to be looking for any link between these people—what did they eat, where did they go, where did they shop?” ABC News Medical Editor Dr. Richard Besser said today on “Good Morning America.” Dr. Besser added that, “Until you know what caused this, you’re going to be working around the clock. Until you solve this, lives are at stake.”
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, which may cause severe diarrhea, stomach cramps, and bloody stool; in the most severe cases, this infection can lead to kidney failure and death. Symptoms generally appear three to four days after exposure, but can take as long as nine days to manifest.
The infection sometimes causes hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a serious disease in which red blood cells are destroyed and the kidneys fail. Infants, children, pregnant women, the elderly, and those with compromised immune systems are especially at risk. Strain 0145 is a shiga-producing strain.
The government has not been checking meat for E. coli 0145; however, as of this week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) began testing meat for six new strains of E. coli, including 0145, noted ABC News.
The very young, seniors, and persons with weak immune systems are the most susceptible to develop a food borne infection causes by the E. coli pathogen.