Nebraska Beef Multi-State E. coli Outbreak Continues

News releases all over the country are reporting that six more people have fallen ill with <"">E. coli, this time in Massachusetts.  All six were infected with deadly E. coli strain 0157:H7, the most virulent of the strains.  Meanwhile, federal and state health officials are investigating the cases, which appear to be linked to those occurring nationwide associated with recalled meat from Nebraska Beef Limited.  Five of the patients required hospitalization, patients ranged in age from three to 60, and all six victims fell ill between July 10-16.

Although the contamination source has not been identified, state and US Department of Agriculture investigators are looking at ground beef.  This particular E. coli strain is typically found in cattle intestines, said Dr. Bela Matyas, medical director of the epidemiology program for the state health department.  E. coli taints meat through improper butchering and processing practices and, once released in the body, produces a type of toxin that leads to severe bleeding and diarrhea, has been associated with kidney damage in young children, and can also lead to kidney failure and death.  Symptoms of E. coli infection include stomach cramps and watery diarrhea that may turn bloody within one to three days.

In a statement, the public health department confirmed that testing of samples collected from several stores will be conducted this week.  “Massachusetts cases were linked by DNA testing and by comparing those results to results from others around the country through a federal food-borne illness surveillance program called PulseNet,” according to the statement.

The ongoing multi-state E. coli outbreak has been linked to Nebraska Beef Limited of Omaha, supplier to Kroger Grocery, among others; Nebraska Beef recently recalled 5.3 million pounds of beef.  The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has confirmed 49 E. coli cases in Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, New York, Ohio, and Utah.  The Associated Press reports E. coli cases traced to recalled beef are related to at least 20 cases nationwide and in Quebec.

Escherichia coli is a relatively common bacteria found in the human digestive tract and is normally harmless; however, strains, including those linked to food poisoning, such as O157:H7, are serious and can cause fatal blood poisoning, cystitis, deadly septicemia, and death.  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.

In the last two years, a variety of food pathogens have killed several people, sickened thousands, and touched nearly every state in the country and 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 into the greater population and several countries also now report cases of antibiotic-resistant E. coli.  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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