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E. coli in North Carolina

Posted in E. coli,Outbreaks & Recalls on June 29, 2018

A suspected E. coli outbreak in Taylorsville, North Carolina has sickened some 100 people, according to local health authorities. They believe that the outbreak is centered around a Mexican restaurant called Mexico Viejo.

Most of the victims reported feeling ill after consuming chicken at the Mexico Viejo on Highway 90 East in Alexander County, NC. Their symptoms include nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Most of the affected customers reported feeling unwell after eating at the restaurant June 21st.

Inspectors from the health department were dispatched to the restaurant on June 23rd. Resources and personnel from the State Environmental Health Division and the State Communicable Disease Branch were also tapped to assist the county health department with the investigation.

The number of cases associated with the outbreak has jumped up rapidly. One person tested positive for E. coli on Friday, June 23rd. Some thirty others reported sickness after having eaten at the restaurant. By Monday, the number of people reporting symptoms consistent with E. coli had increased to 100. Local news reports that all of the individuals interviewed by the health department so far have recovered or seen their condition improve dramatically.

The Alexander County Health Department believes the outbreak to be an isolated event. So far, there’s no indication that other restaurants aside from Mexico Viejo were affected. There’s also no evidence so far to link the Alexander County strain to the larger wave of E. coli that’s been sweeping across the nation. That outbreak has sickened some 200 people in 35 different states. The culprit in that case wasn’t chicken; it was romaine lettuce.

Although officials suspect that the outbreak is rooted in chicken served at Mexico Viejo on or about the 20th and the 21st, they have not yet determined an official cause. It’s not yet clear where the chicken in question came from, or how it came to be contaminated with E. coli. We don’t know much yet, but the chicken may or may not be found to have been contaminated by another business further upstream along the supply chain – a broker who provided it to the restaurant, for example, or the farm that raised the animals. It also may have been contaminated after it arrived at Mexico Viejo.

The restaurant is being cooperative, according to the health department. They have not found cause for the restaurant to close while the investigation is ongoing. Mexico Viejo will be monitored closely during the investigation. Whether or not they’ll be asked to make changes to how they do business in the kitchen remains to be seen.

Mexico Viejo passed a food inspection in September of 2017 with high marks. The restaurant did not receive a perfect score, however. They were found to be in violation of health code on a few different counts. For having the food separated and protected, cleanliness of surfaces, and the presence of unauthorized animals, the restaurant was found to be out of compliance. Only one of these, however, was found to be a risk factor violation, and no repeat risk factor violations were registered by the health department inspection.

About E. coli

The bacterium known as E. coli is found in the lower intestines of warm-blooded animals. Confined to the lower intestine, it does a body good – producing important vitamins, helping to break down feces, and protecting the microbiota of the excretory system against harmful pathogens. There are many different types of E. coli, and the bulk are harmless or beneficial. Certain types, however, are dangerous. They can cause serious food poisoning if they find their way into a person’s digestive system through the fecal-oral route.

Most E. coli infections are mild and pass within a few days. For the elderly, the very young, and the immunocompromised, infections are more likely to cause severe illness or death. Extreme cases can cause tissue necrosis, perforation of the bowel, or sepsis if the infection jumps to the bloodstream. If you’re experiencing symptoms of food poisoning and suspect that you may have been exposed to E. coli, the best course of action is to seek attention from a medical professional.

While people of any age can consume the pathogen and become infected with STEC E. coli, some are more likely than others to develop more serious complications.  The very young, the very old, and those with a compromised immune system are more likely to become infected with STEC.  The very young and the elderly are at risk to develop a severe illness known as Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome or HUS, though even healthy older children and younger adults can become ill.

HUS, or hemolytic uremic syndrome is a potentially life-threatening complication affecting the kidneys as a result of STEC infection.  About 5 to 10% of those diagnosed with STEC end up with HUS.  People with HUS should be hospitalized, otherwise they could experience kidney failure and other serious health problems.  Though most people with HUS can recover within just a few weeks, some may suffer permanent damage and not recover.

The best way to prevent E. coli is to wash your hands often and well. If you have children, take care to make sure that they’ve washed their hands as well; it’s not uncommon for E. coli infections to spread between toddlers at a daycare. The very young, furthermore, are at higher risk than older children and adults at having a brush with E. coli develop into something more serious.

Antibiotics aren’t recommended as a treatment for E. coli. In most cases, the best thing to do is to ride out the infection with standard food poisoning tactics. Get lots of sleep, drink lots of fluids, and take care to practice good hygiene so that you don’t pass your sickness on to anyone around you. Keep an eye on your stool;  diarrhea is a common symptom, and usually subsides after a day or two. If it lasts for more than three days, or if you find blood in your stool, you should go see a doctor. Early medical attention can help reduce the risk of developing HUS.


By: Sean McNulty, Contributing Writer (Non-Lawyer)