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The CDC is advising consumers against eating any romaine lettuce for the time being over fears of an outbreak of E. coli O157:H7. Yes, another e coli romaine outbreak. The announcement of the outbreak went up on their website on Tuesday, November 20th, just a few days before Thanksgiving. The advice applies nationwide, and it looks like the tainted romaine is an international phenomenon – Canada is also seeing a rash of E. coli poisonings that are believed to be connected.
That’s bad news for much of the US west of the Mississippi, where salad is often the side dish of choice at Thanksgiving dinner. If you’ve got romaine in your fridge and were planning on putting it into a salad, it’s best to chuck it out now out of an abundance of caution.
The alert covers all kinds of romaine lettuce; the CDC recommends avoiding whole heads of romaine, hearts, bags and boxes of pre-cut lettuce, and salads. If you can think of a creative form of romaine that they haven’t named, you should probably avoid that too. They’re cautioning against even eating salads that may or may not contain romaine, in instances where one might be unsure, and they’re additionally counseling that you go so far as to wash and disinfect the crisper drawer of your fridge if you’ve stored romaine in there recently.
Typically, cases of E. coli start to show up three to four days after you’ve been exposed to the pathogen. Diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain are common symptoms. In some cases, the sickness might cause headaches, fevers, or muscles aches as well.
As of the time of this writing, the outbreak involves more than thirty cases of illness across 11 different states. Illness dates run from October 8th through the end of the month. Thirteen different people were hospitalized. In Canada, 18 people in Toronto and Quebec have fallen ill from a strain of E. coli whose genetic fingerprint is a match for the cases in the United States.
Victims range in age from 7 to 84 years. Two out of three of those affected are female.
Because there’s some downtime between the point at which a person is exposed to E. coli, the time that it takes for the illness to develop, and the time it takes for news of a case to reach the CDC, authorities are urging that the current numbers may change. Some illnesses may be out there that haven’t yet been reported, some are still developing, and some of the tainted romaine may even still be in some people’s fridges.
Investigators determined that romaine was the likely source of the outbreak through the interviews that they conducted with victims. Eleven of the fourteen people that the CDC interviewed said that they’d recently consumed romaine lettuce. Sources of the romaine were diverse, with the different interviewees reporting that they’d had the lettuce at a range of restaurants or at home. 11 out of 14 is almost 80 percent; it’s a noticeably higher percentage than the background rate of lettuce consumption, which the CDC estimates from available evidence to be around one in two.
Curiously, DNA testing indicates that the genetics of the bacteria behind this present outbreak are a match for the strain of E. coli that we saw about a year ago in November and December of 2017. That outbreak was also linked to romaine lettuce, and it also sickened people across the United States and Canada. 17 people were sickened across 13 states in the US, and 42 Canadians from five different provinces fell ill. Seventeen Canadians were also hospitalized, and one died.
The CDC and Canada’s National Public Health Agency weren’t able to identify a source for that outbreak. As of this writing, they haven’t identified a source for this current outbreak, either. That’s the reason that they’re advising that you throw out any romaine lettuce for the time being.
Usually, an adult with a healthy immune system is able to survive a bout with food poisoning from a pathogen like E. coli. For the very young, the very old, and the immunocompromised, it’s a different story. E. coli poisoning can overwhelm an immune system that isn’t running at 100%, sometimes progressing into a serious illness that warrants immediate medical attention or hospitalization. It’s not unheard of for particularly virulent cases to make the jump into the bloodstream, raising the specter of sepsis.
E coli O157:H7, however, is even scarier than that. It’s one of the strains of E. coli that produce a chemical called shiga toxin. It’s nasty stuff that interferes with protein synthesis in the cell much like the famed poison ricin does. It’s also useful, in a modified form, for targeting tumors caused by gastric cancer. When E. coli produces this chemical in your gut, it inflames your digestive system and can lead to bloody diarrhea or kidney failure. In some cases, victims develop a condition called hemolytic uretic syndrome, which kills one in ten that it affects. Most often seen in children, it sometimes requires months of dialysis, and leaves a nasty legacy of permanent health conditions in one out of three cases. During this current outbreak, one person has developed HUS in the United States, and another has developed HUS in Canada.
That means the threat of tainted romaine is real, and something that you would do well to take quite seriously. Especially if you’re planning on bringing a salad to Christmas dinner. You can still have a salad, if you like, but be sure that it doesn’t have any romaine lettuce.
If you believe you have developed an E coli infection from eating romaine lettuce, we want you to know that an E coli Lawyer at the Lange Law Firm, PLLC is currently investigating this matter and offering free legal consultations. Our lawyer, Jory Lange became a lawyer to help make our communities and families safer.
If you or a loved one have become ill with E coli, you can call (833) 330-3663 for a free legal consultation or complete the form here.
By: Sean McNulty, Contributing Writer (Non-Lawyer)