Investigators identify organic produce as possible source for E. coli outbreak

Organic produce has tentatively been determined to be behind an E. Coli O157 outbreak that has sickened children in the Seattle-King County area in Washington.

All of the patients are younger than 15 years of age, and three are younger 5 years of age. The seven patients have been reported during April 22-May 1 time period, according to Seattle-King County Public Health. 

Six of the children have been so sick they had to be admitted to hospitals. This includes two children who developed a potentially life-threatening type of kidney complication called hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). Both are recovering.

“Our investigation is ongoing. We have identified multiple types of fresh produce, mostly organic, in common among the majority of cases but cannot yet rule out other possibilities,” the health department reported in its outbreak update.

“Public Health is conducting interviews with cases and their parents/guardians to help identify any common exposures. We are also working with the Washington State Department of Health to complete further testing, to help identify possible related cases in other counties, and to begin traceback of any products in common.”

The health department is warning consumers that fresh fruits and vegetables — including organics — can sometimes have germs such as E. Coli on them. The contamination of such foods has been implicated in numerous outbreaks in recent years. The department encourages consumers to throughly rinse fresh produce before preparing and consuming it raw.

Investigators are continuing their work on the outbreak and will post updates as new information becomes available.

About E. coli infections
Anyone who has eaten any fresh organic produce and developed symptoms of E. coli infection should seek medical attention and tell their doctor about their possible exposure to the bacteria. Specific tests are required to diagnose the infections, which can mimic other illnesses.

The symptoms of E. coli infections vary for each person but often include severe stomach cramps and diarrhea, which is often bloody. Some patients may also have a fever. Most patients recover within five to seven days. Others can develop severe or life-threatening symptoms and complications, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

About 5 to 10 percent of those diagnosed with E. coli infections develop a potentially life-threatening kidney failure complication, known as a hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). Symptoms of HUS include fever, abdominal pain, feeling very tired, decreased frequency of urination, small unexplained bruises or bleeding, and pallor.

Many people with HUS recover within a few weeks, but some suffer permanent injuries or death. This condition can occur among people of any age but is most common in children younger than five years old because of their immature immune systems, older adults because of deteriorating immune systems, and people with compromised immune systems such as cancer patients.

People who experience HUS symptoms should immediately seek emergency medical care. People with HUS will likely be hospitalized because the condition can cause other serious and ongoing problems such as hypertension, chronic kidney disease, brain damage, and neurologic problems.

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