New E. coli Outbreak Emerging in Nebraska

The Associated Press (AP) is reporting today that nine people in southeast Nebraska have tested positive for <"">E. coli infection.  Health officials believe a community event may the link for some of the illnesses. Vicki Duey, executive director of the Four Corners Health Department in York, said five people have tested positive for E. coli since her office was first alerted on July 22; others may also be sick.

Although Duey said it the event that health officials are looking at was a one-time event, she declined to provide any other information about the occasion or where it occurred and has also declined to provide details about the sick Nebraskans or where they live, citing patient privacy. The event was held two weeks ago.  Duey’s department handles Butler, Polk, Seward, and York counties in Nebraska.  Duey said the cases her department is reviewing may have been caused by improperly cooked or mishandled food and that organizers of the suspected event are assisting investigators and working to identify others who may have fallen ill.  The state health department is also involved.

Tom Safranek, Nebraska state epidemiologist, reports four confirmed cases of E. coli infection in the Auburn area of Nemaha County; the cause of those illnesses remains under investigation.  Safranek said three of those who fell ill live in the same house, and the fourth came in contact with them. 

”We don’t have any good explanation as to where they picked it up,” he said, but did say that it was possible that one person fell ill and spread the infection to the others.

Last week, investigators ruled out restaurant food and meat recalled June 30 by an Omaha company as possible sources and Duey confirmed that beef was not served at the event, which—according to Safranek—included a catered meal. 

 Safranek said the incubation period typically ranges from 48 hours to three days, but some people will show no symptoms, while others can be sick for a week or longer, leading to kidney problems and even death.

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.  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.

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.

Meanwhile, an ongoing multi-state E. coli outbreak that began on May 27 has been traced back to recalled beef and has infected and hospitalized dozens, with one person developing kidney failure.

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