The widening cluster of E. coli O157:H7 infections in Georgia may be linked to an outbreak E. coli illnesses in Ohio and Michigan. The Moultrie Observer reports that preliminary testing has linked the at least 9 Georgia cases to the 41 in Ohio and Michigan, which have been traced back to beef products from Nebraska Beef Ltd. of Omaha.

E. coli infections began showing up in central Ohio in mid-June, paralleled by a sharp increase in E. coli cases in Michigan. By June 20, officials had genetically linked many of the Ohio and Michigan cases; the days that followed, the outbreak was traced to ground beef from Kroger stores. With illnesses nearing 30, Kroger initiated a voluntary recall on June 25. On June 30, FSIS announced that the tainted meat had been traced back to Nebraska Beef Products, and a recall of 531,707 pounds of ground beef products was initiated. On July 2, the Kroger recall widened to 20 states. On July 3, the Nebraska Beef recall was widened to include 5.3 million pounds. Georgia is not on the Kroger recall list, but is part of the Nebraska Beef recall.

Nebraska Beef Ltd. is already enmeshed in lawsuits stemming from tainted meat. In 2006, seventeen people were infected with E. coli O157:H7 after eating Nebraska Beef products prepared at a church dinner; one woman died. Nebraska Beef responded by suing the church. A lawsuit has just been filed on behalf of an Ohio resident who became ill from eating Nebraska Beef products in the recent outbreak there.

We also filed an additional lawsuit against Nebraska Beef today.  The recent filing occurred today in the United States District Court, Southern District of Ohio, Eastern Division, on behalf of Pickerington, Ohio resident Dawn Grieves, who was infected with the toxic E. coli strain O157:H7 after eating ground beef processed by Nebraska Beef Ltd.

The lawsuit states that Ms. Grieves consumed Nebraska Beef Ltd products in the early part of June, 2008 and fell ill on June 5. She began to have increasingly severe symptoms including abdominal cramps, vomiting, and diarrhea, which sent her to the emergency room on June 6. She was given medication and returned home. Her health continued to deteriorate, and when and samples taken during her ER visit revealed that she had been infected with E. coli O157:H7, she returned to the hospital. She was admitted on June 9 and remained there until June 13. She continues to recover from her illness.