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USDA investigates new outbreak of E. coli infections; focus on ground beef

Federal officials have opened an investigation into an outbreak of E. Coli O157:H7 infections suspected to be linked to ground beef.

Other than the fact there is an open investigation, no other published information is available from the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). The FSIS has not indicated what producers or what brands of ground beef might be involved. The agency also has not revealed how many people have been infected or what states are involved.

The FSIS outbreak investigation table has a column for “Outcomes & References” but the column for the new outbreak was blank as of Dec. 10.

“During investigations, FSIS may respond by posting recalls of FSIS-regulated products linked to illness or by issuing public health alerts,” according to the FSIS outbreak investigation website. 

“The Outcomes & References column includes links to recall notices, public health alerts, and after-action review reports, as well as CDC outbreak notices for selected multi-state foodborne outbreaks, which provide additional information.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had not yet announced the outbreak as of Dec. 11. Consequently the FSIS cannot yet post links to any CDC references re alerts.

About E. coli infections
Anyone who has eaten ground beef 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.

About 5 percent to 10 percent of those who are diagnosed with E. coli infections develop a potentially life-threatening kidney failure complication, known as 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 die. This condition can occur among people of any age but is most common in children younger than 5 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 seek emergency medical care immediately. People with HUS should be hospitalized because it can cause other serious and ongoing problems such as hypertension, chronic kidney disease, brain damage and neurologic problems.