It’s Official: E. Coli in Ohio Declared an Outbreak

The growing number of <"">E. coli cases reported in Ohio has now officially been deemed an outbreak by the Columbus Public Health department.  Also, the three cases from Franklin County have genetic links, confirming they generated from the same source.  And, in addition to the seven we reported yesterday, four new cases have been reported, raising the total number to 11 since early this month.  The seven cases—which were reported outside Franklin County—are pending processing by the state lab and have not been officially linked to the three in Franklin County, said Ohio Department of Health spokesman Kristopher Weiss. The three linked Franklin County cases were not linked to the 52-year-old Gahanna woman who died May 27.

In addition to a 14-year-old Franklin County girl, three other people have been infected, but Columbus officials would not release details.  Mitzi Kline, spokeswoman for the county Health Department reported on the details involving the 14-year-old girl.  A variety of health departments—city; state; and Delaware, Fairfield, and Franklin counties—are collaborating and planning on daily reports on new cases and progress.  

Determining the E. coli source can be challenging given that it takes approximately three weeks between the illness and the genetic fingerprinting that links cases, said Debbie Coleman, assistant city health commissioner.  Dr. Mark Moseley, medical director of the Ohio State University (OSU) emergency department, said doctors and nurses at OSU are seeing “an unusual number of people with diarrhea, nausea and vomiting … usually, that season is fall to winter, so when we start seeing that in the summer, it’s a little strange.”  Moseley added that the testing to determine whether the illness is E. coli or “some other illness, possibly viral,” takes time.  Moseley did note the symptoms “do match up.”

Escherichia coli is a relatively common bacteria found in the human digestive tract and is normally harmless; however, some strains, including those linked to food poisoning, are serious and can cause fatal blood poisoning, cystitis, and deadly septicemia.  Because many infected with the bacteria experience less severe symptoms, many cases are never reported to health officials.  In the US, E. coli is the leading cause of food-borne illness.  About 73,000 people are infected and 61 people die from E. coli each year and, last year alone, over 22 million pounds of beef and vegetables were recalled due to E. coli outbreaks.

Recently, a variety of food pathogens have killed several, sickened over 1,300, and touched nearly every state in the country as well as Canada.  The problem is difficult to police because the food-surveillance system is outdated, under-funded, and overwhelmed by the emergence of mega-farms, -distribution centers, and -transporters.  Scientists have expressed concern that infections from antibiotic resistant E. coli bacteria are spreading and several countries are now reporting cases.  Researchers compare the E. coli threat to the worldwide problem of community-acquired and antibiotic resistant staph infection called MRSA—Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus.  And, now, emerging data confirms the negative health effects of E. coli can remain for months and years; can have long-term, lasting effects; and can appear months or years after the original illness.

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