As the Seattle Times reported today, one person has died and 13 were sickened at a Bellevue assisted-living facility after an outbreak of symptoms that public-health officials say point to E. coli, a potentially deadly food-borne bacterium.
From the article:
The woman who died Thursday night was in her 80s, said Marili Rounds, executive director of the facility, Robinswood Pointe Senior Living Center. Health officials did not identify her.
She did not test positive for E. coli, but like others who did went to the hospital with gastrointestinal symptoms indicative of the pathogen.
James Apa, spokesman for Public Health – Seattle & King County, said the outbreak between Sept. 23 and last Sunday has ended. One patient is still recovering at the hospital, but others have been released, he said. Four of the 14 tested positive for the strain of E. coli implicated in such outbreaks, he said.
Apa said health officials are investigating the Robinswood outbreak, but so far, they haven’t found a source for the E. coli. In many such cases, Apa said, investigators are unable to identify the “point source” of the infection. “We can’t say what was the original offender.”
Another ongoing investigation is looking at eight E. coli cases that occurred between August and early September in different counties, he said. Four of the eight ate at an Olive Garden restaurant in King County, Apa said, but health investigators have determined the restaurant was not the source of the problem.
In both the Robinswood and Olive Garden investigations, “there is neither a threat to the general public nor any indications of sustained transmission,” Apa said.
According to state health officials, there are between 150 and 300 cases each year of E. coli O157:H7, the common strain in outbreaks. E. coli live in the intestines of cattle, so anything that comes into contact with cow manure can harbor the bacteria. In the past, ground beef has been the most commonly contaminated food.
In 2002, 18 million pounds of beef from a ConAgra Beef Co. plant in Colorado were recalled after it was linked to E. coli in dozens of people.
Outbreaks have also occurred in people who have consumed garden vegetables fertilized with animal manure, unpasteurized apple cider and home-made venison jerky. Some cases recently were linked to contaminated swimming water and petting farms.
E. coli O157:H7, which doesn’t sicken the cattle that harbor it, can cause a deadly infection in healthy humans, leading to inflammation of the intestinal wall and even kidney failure. It is particularly dangerous to children, the elderly and those with weakened immune systems.
Bill Marler, whose law firm has represented thousands of victims of E. coli, said recent cases seem to indicate more problems with pre-washed, packaged lettuce and other vegetables. Investigations reveal the problem is contaminated irrigation water sprayed onto the vegetables, he said.
Thousands of bags of pre-packaged lettuce were recalled last month in Minnesota after more than a dozen people were sickened, with eight hospitalized. E. coli was confirmed by laboratory tests in packages of lettuce.
“Since 2002, we have not seen a major outbreak in hamburger,” Marler said. “But we’ve seen outbreaks in fresh fruits and vegetables.”
“Pre-washed” vegetables should always be washed, said Marler, who lectures around the country about stopping E. coli outbreaks.
Marler said it is not unusual for people who have been sickened by E. coli not to test positive.
In the 1993 Washington state outbreak, Marler said, about a third of those who were sickened never had positive tests.