Are USE Coli Cases Tied to Romaine Lettuce?

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The outbreak of E. coli, a bacteria that can cause serious complications and even lead to death, has infected individuals in 13 US states (California, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Vermont and Washington state). According to the January 3 report, more than 50 people have gotten sick in the U.S. and Canada likely as a result of an E. coli bacteria strain linked to romaine lettuce, and there have also been two reported deaths so far. In sad news for those of us looking to make January a month of fresh greens, in response to the indulgence of the holidays, Consumer Reports is now advising that we avoid eating romaine lettuce after an E. coli outbreak has been linked to at least two deaths.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has not yet identified the cause of the 17 illnesses and one death reported in the United States, but said last week that the strain of virus found in both countries-E. coli O157:H7-is the same. The agency says state and local health officials are interviewing those who have gotten sick to find out if there is a common source of the bacteria.

"Very young children and the elderly are more likely to develop severe illness and HUS than others, but even healthy older children and young adults can become seriously ill", as the CDC has said.

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"Because we have not identified a source of the infections, CDC is unable to recommend whether USA residents should avoid a particular food", the agency said in its statement on December 28. Here government health officials are still investigating the outbreaks and have made no suggestions regarding romaine lettuce consumption.

Laboratory testing is necessary to determine whether food is contaminated with E. coli because it can't be seen, smelled or tasted.

While the agency was still collecting information to determine whether those affected consumed leafy greens, the Public Health Agency of Canada has identified romaine lettuce as the source. An outbreak of E. coli infections may be tied to a bad batch of romaine lettuce. "If so, and people aren't warned, more may get sick".

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The abundance of caution comes in part because romaine lettuce is nearly always eaten raw, according to Consumer Reports. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, pain or tenderness, diarrhea and abdominal cramps.

Be on the lookout for serious complications of E. coli, including hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), which affects the kidneys.

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