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Another Ecoli outbreak has hit the news. This time in central Kentucky. And while reports are just coming in, the fingers are starting to point to fast food establishments. While no names have been mentioned, Health Department officials are starting to piece facts together, hopefully bringing us more news as they find answers. Here’s what we do know about the Ecoli Outbreak in Kentucky:
Unless you’ve been living under a rock (and if you are how are you reading this?) you know E. coli outbreaks have been in the news the past year centering on Romaine lettuce and growers. While this shouldn’t have any connection, it is too early to speculate so we will stick to the facts.
The Kentucky Health Department released an alert stating “there is a sudden increase in E. coli 0103 cases, and it is linked to fast food.” So far, twenty cases have been reported (with 6 hospitalizations) and the Health Department is actively searching for more. The troubling part is most of the cases have been children and teens – more on why this is a problem later. Fortunately, there are no reports of deaths at this time.
Early reports indicate Fayette County has reported the most cases with five. Harrison, Pike, and Laurel report two while other surrounding counties have one. “It would be really easy if it was all five people that lived in the same household or something like that, but there’s just really not any common link to them,” Lexington-Fayette County Community Health Officer Jessica Cobb said. This is the main reason why outbreaks are so hard for officials to get a grasp on: the lack of information, rhyme, or reason.
Ecoli (Escherichia coli) is a bacteria that lives in us all. Our intestines use E. coli to break down food in a healthy way. The difference is some of E. coli strains are pathogenic. These are the types that cause unpleasant and sometimes serious illness. Without getting into the scientific side of bacteria, there are “types” of E. coli; you can read about each one and the part they play here. Suffice it to say the bad ones can cause serious problems if left unchecked.
Like most other foodborne symptoms, Ecoli is hard to diagnose. This is not due to the ability for hospitals to test to see what has made you ill, it is because the signs are mostly all the same. Do any of these symptoms look familiar?
Looks like a list for the common flu. These are also what it feels like to have Ecoli. As you can see, there is little difference without seeking medical help. That is my admonishment: please do not take any sickness lightly. Make sure you see a medical professional as soon as possible because the alternative is not pleasant.
In extreme instances, pay special attention to these indicators that something is severely wrong:
According to the CDC, “about 5 to 10% of people who are diagnosed with STEC infection develop a potentially life-threatening complication known as hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). HUS developers about 7 days after symptoms first appear, when diarrhea is improving. Clues that someone is developing HUS include decreased frequency of urination, feeling very tired, and losing pink color in cheeks and inside the lower eyelids. People with HUS should be hospitalized because their kidneys may stop working and they may develop other serious problems. Most people with HUS recover within a few weeks, but some suffer permanent damage or die.” (source)
As you can see, this is nothing to wait around to see if you will get better. Please be safe and aware of what needs to be done when symptoms first appear. As I said earlier, this outbreak seems to be centered on children and teens. Now we can see how dangerous E. coli is. I cannot tell you what to do but if there is a chance to keep our kids safe by not eating out, seriously consider eating at home.
When it comes to fast food, prevention is almost non-existent. The only control you have over eating food prepared at a fast food restaurant is to not eat there. If you do, you are at the mercy of the establishment. There are still a few tips when it comes to food safety though. Only the first one applies when eating out but I feel it is the most important one to remember.
Wash your hands. Let me take that a step farther and say: wash everything. When eating out, keep your hands and eating surfaces clean. When preparing meals at home, washing your hands, surfaces, utensils, and cleaning after meals is vital.
Be aware of cross-contamination. Cleaning surfaces and utensils each time they are used will cut down on the spread of bacteria. This is especially important if cooking with raw meat.
Understand food risks. Again, wash all foods. Cook food at recommended temperatures. Stay away from unpasteurized milk, juice, and cider.
One aspect we often forget is risks. Infants, pregnant women, and the elderly are at a higher risk for contracting E. coli. By taking precautions, this group can be protected by following the above safety practices. When my wife was pregnant, we discussed this problem and not only stayed away from fast food but took extra precautions each night for dinner.
“Exposure to E. coli bacteria can be debilitating and potentially life-threatening, especially for small children and individuals with weakened immune systems,” state health commissioner Dr. Jeff Howard said. “We encourage all Kentuckians to be aware of the signs and symptoms of E. coli illness and to seek care if they are ill.”
We here at makefoodsafe.com are dedicated to bringing you the latest food safety information. Stay close; I will be monitoring this situation try to report as things get better. Ecoli is an ever present problem, never underestimate it. While food safety is the goal here, the main concern is your health. This is how we do it.
In the meantime, take the time to research more about this and other food safety issues. I am confident the more we know the better prepared we are to combat foodborne illnesses.
I would be remiss if I didn’t leave without one last warning: until authorities can get to the bottom of this latest outbreak, steer clear of fast food if possible. Your safety comes first.
Our mission is to help families who have been harmed by contaminated food or water. When corporations cause Salmonella food poisoning outbreaks or Legionnaires disease outbreaks, we use the law to hold them accountable. The Lange Law Firm, PLLC is the only law firm in the nation solely focused on representing families in food poisoning lawsuits and Legionnaires disease lawsuits.
If you were infected with Ecoli after eating fast food, and are interested in making a legal claim for compensation, we can help. Call us for a free no obligation legal consultation at (833) 330-3663, or send us an e-mail here.
By: Dwight Spencer, Contributing Writer (Non-Lawyer)