More People Ill in Growing Michigin Lettuce E. coli Outbreak

The <"">E. coli outbreak  linked to a Michigan lettuce distributor has now sickened 30 people in the mid- and southeast regions of that state, according to Michigan health officials.  Four new cases have been reported since late last week across three counties.  In all, about eight counties are involved.

Meanwhile, we just reported that the Michigan Department of Community Health announced that bagged lettuce from Detroit-based produce distributor Aunt Mid’s Produce Company, is the probable source of the outbreak that seems to have originated in that state.  In addition to those ill in Michigan, this outbreak has sickened several others in New York, Ohio, Illinois, 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.”  Aunt Mid’s released a statement Friday saying, “(Aunt Mid’s) has already voluntarily initiated testing procedures by an independent laboratory.  In the meantime, Aunt Mid’s is voluntarily suspending any processing and sale of its iceberg lettuce product line….  I don’t think there’s much question about it being lettuce,” Alexander said. “Fresh produce and ground beef are the two most common sources.”

The state connected lettuce supplies from MSU, the Lenawee County Jail, and a restaurant in Illinois, said James McCurtis, a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Community Health.  “So far, it points to Aunt Mid’s,” he said. “As we progress, there might be other vendors.”  The Associate Press reports that at least five Illinois residents were hospitalized after contracting the bacteria between late August and mid-September, with a sixth Illinois resident also reported infected.  An Aunt Mid’s company statement says Aunt Mid’s has begun testing of its processing facility and initial results show no contamination, according to the AP.

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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