Four More Sickened in Michigan E. coli Outbreak

The Michigan <"">E. coli outbreak can add four new victims to its ever-growing list according to Michigan health officials.  The victims are likely connected to lettuce from a Detroit produce wholesaler.  The Michigan Department of Community Health reported that it has 34 confirmed cases, which includes nine Michigan State University (MSU) students and five cases at the Lenawee County Jail.  Also, five cases each were reported in Wayne and Macomb counties; Washtenaw has four cases; Kent has three; and Oakland and Genesee counties have one each.

The newest four cases originated from Wayne, Washtenaw, Kent ,and Genesee counties, according to department spokesman James McCurtis.  All of the illnesses are believed linked to industrial-sized packages of bagged iceberg lettuce sold through wholesaler to restaurants and institutions; grocery store bagged lettuce does not seem to be involved.  The lettuce was purchased from Aunt Mid’s Produce Company, a Detroit-based wholesale distributor.

The department reports that five of the nine MSU students and 13 others required hospitalization and that the illnesses have affected people as far away as Illinois, which has seen five victims.  In addition to those ill in Michigan and Illinois, this outbreak has sickened several others in New York, Ohio, and Oregon.  “That pretty much nailed the fact that it was a national distributor,” Michigan State University Physician Beth Alexander said regarding the related cases emerging in other states.  “There can be many distributors of one farm.  If you trace it back to where the product is produced, they might sell to several distributors.”  Genetic testing confirms that the patients have been sickened by E. coli strain O157:H7.

An Aunt Mid’s executive said that shipments of iceberg lettuce have been halted, although Aunt Mid’s continues to ship other produce items to commercial food preparers.  Meanwhile, health investigators have not eliminated other commercial produce wholesalers that may have packaged and shipped lettuce from the same source from its investigation.

E. coli are a group of bacteria found in animal intestines and feces.  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.  Of particular concern is the virulent, sometimes deadly E. coli O157:H7 strain that is part of this group and that is generally found to be the culprit in E. coli-related food-borne illness outbreak.  Strain O157:H7 has been confirmed to be to blame in this outbreak.  E. coli may cause fatal blood poisoning, cystitis, deadly septicemia, and death.  In the US, E. coli is the leading cause of food-borne illness, sickening about 73,000 and killing 61; last year, over 22 million pounds of beef and vegetables were recalled due to E. coli outbreaks.

There is growing concern in the scientific community—not just because of the seeming prevalence of all manner of foodborne illnesses—but because instances of drug resistant E. coli are being reported world-wide and are similar in path to a mutated staph called MRSA, Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus that, when not treated early, is resistant to all but the one antibiotic of last resort.

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