CDC: Lettuce-Linked E. Coli Outbreak Spreads To Wisconsin

A plate of butternut Caesar salad with Romaine lettuce and roasted cubes of butternut squash

Five people in Washington state have reported sickness from E. coli food poisoning, as part of the widespread outbreak linked to romaine lettuce that has sickened almost 100 people in about two dozen states. Three more states have reported ill persons: Mississippi, Tennessee, and Wisconsin.

Of the first 87 patients who became ill, 46 have been hospitalized, which officials conceded is a higher than normal hospitalization rate for E. coli.

"We have many lines of evidence suggesting to us right now that all of these illnesses are connected in some way through romaine grown in the Yuma region [of Arizona]", Matthew Wise, the CDC deputy branch chief for Outbreak Response, said during a Friday news briefing.

The national E. coli outbreak that has been linked to contaminated romaine lettuce has worsened, as more than 30 new cases have been reported. They include severe and painful cramps and diarrhea that is bloody or watery. Ten of those developed severe kidney failure. Those most at risk for E. coli illness include the very young, the very old and individuals with compromised immune systems. Wise said though all outbreak cases have the same DNA pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) pattern, the CDC will be doing whole-genome sequencing on samples from patients to look for any more clues that might line up with what the FDA will find in its testing.

No other types of lettuce or romaine grown outside the Yuma region have been implicated in the outbreak, officials said.

The growing season in the Yuma region runs from November to March and then moves north to Salinas, California, for the summer.

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The CDC did identify one farm associated with the outbreak but said it's not the source for most cases.

Stic Harris, DVM, MPH, director of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Coordinated Outbreak Response and Evaluation (CORE), said whole-head romaine linked to illnesses in Alaska, which occurred in eight people at a correctional facility, came from Harrison Farms of Yuma, Ariz. However, Harris said it still wasn't clear how the lettuce was contaminated or if it was contaminated at the farm or elsewhere in the supply chain.

An investigation into the source of the outbreak is continuing.

"When I look at a bag of lettuce and it says product of the United States of America, do I know it's from Yuma? We are looking at each grower or shipper or supplier to see if there is a convergence".

The firm likewise cautioned dining establishments not to serve romaine lettuce to consumers.

It's the largest outbreak linked to that type of germ since a 2006 outbreak linked to spinach, which made 200 people sick.

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