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Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

Health officials have not yet linked Dole spinach to woman’s death

David Dishneau of the AP wrote on Friday about the death of Hagerstown resident, Ruth Dunning due to an E. coli infection.

After months of testing, public health officials said Friday they cannot conclusively link the E. coli-related death in September of a Hagerstown woman to the bacteria strain found in packaged fresh spinach that killed three people and sickened hundreds more in a national outbreak last year.

Here are some facts from the family:

* June ate Dole bagged spinach on August 28 and 30 and on September 1, then was hospitalized with E. coli O157:H7 symptoms on September 2.

* We were advised on or about 7 September 2006 by the attending physician and the Infectious disease doctor at the hospital that June in fact had E. coli O157:H7.

* We have a copy of the laboratory report that was transmitted to the local DHMH office on 7 September that shows E. coli O157:H7 was isolated from a 2 September stool sample.

* We were advised prior to being removed from life support that her kidneys were failing from the E. coli O157:H7.

* June died on 13 September, approximately 50 hours after being removed from life support.

* After contacting the attending physician and the local DHMH to inquire if we should delay her cremation, we were advised to continue because the piece of removed colon was available for further testing if needed.

* We were informed by the local DHMH that the original culture that isolated the E. coli O157:H7 was never delivered to DHMH for further testing

* We were also informed by the local DHMH that the original culture could not be located.

* We were later informed (after the cremation) the colon had been preserved in formaldehyde and further tissue testing would be very difficult.

* The Dole spinach we provided to DHMH, and June ate, is of the same Lot Number and Use-by-Date as those referenced by FDA as being identified in Illinois and Colorado of containing E. coli O157:H7.

Here are some more facts from the CDC, Maryland, Illinois and Wisconsin Departments of Health:

E. coli O157 Found in Dunning’s stool (specimen lost so not ever “genetically fingerprinted”)

E. coli O146 Found in Dunning’s spinach which is a genetic match to Illinois spinach bag that also contained E. coli O157 (confirmed outbreak strain)

E. coli O45 Found in stool specimen of 9 year old Wisconsin boy

E. coli O26 Found in stool specimen of 9 year old Wisconsin boy

E. coli O157 Found in stool specimen of 9 year old Wisconsin boy (confirmed outbreak strain)

David Dishneau further reported:

William Marler said the colon tissue was improperly preserved in formaldehyde, which destroyed any bacteria, and that the stool sample was lost before public health agencies could test it.

The CDC laboratory report says the spinach from the home contained another strain of E. coli, 0146:H21, that was indistinguishable from a strain found in a bag of spinach in Illinois that also contained the outbreak strain.

Marler said two other E. coli strains were found in the stool of a confirmed outbreak patient in Wisconsin, raising the possibility that some tainted spinach contained multiple strains of illness-inducing bacteria.

Although Dunning may not be listed by the CDC as a victim of the outbreak, Marler said the connection is clear.

“From a legal perspective, it frankly just doesn’t matter whether she is officially ever counted or not,” Marler said. “This is a case that without any question is part of this outbreak, and she died as a result of eating Dole baby spinach.”

Dunning’s son-in-law, Warren A. Swartz, said the family wasn’t deterred by the findings.

“I’m not discouraged by it,” he said. “I know in my heart what happened.”