Potentially deadly E. coli outbreak hits Southern states
A virulent and potentially deadly strain of E. coli bacteria linked to more than a dozen illnesses and one death across six states has health officials racing to identify the source.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) officials have found that so far the biggest concentration of E. coli O145, the strain linked to this latest outbreak, has occurred in its own backyard of Atlanta, Georgia. There, five people ages 18 to 52 have been sickened. Two people in Alabama have been sickened by the same E. coli strain, four in Louisiana, and one each in California, Florida, and Tennessee.
While most strains of E. coli aren’t deadly, the 0145 strain identified in this outbreak produces a deadly toxin called shiga, which can harbor itself in cattle and other animals without ill effect. The bacteria spreads when it is ingested by humans, whose cells have specific receptors the toxin requires to attach and enter the cells, producing violent sickness that can ultimately lead to kidney damage and death.
CDC officials have not been able to pinpoint food sources or environmental exposures that could be blameds for these illnesses, but the investigation is ongoing. When an E. coli outbreak occurs at this time of the year, undercooked ground beef is usually a prime suspect.
According to the Associated Press, the first outbreak of foodborne E. coli O145 occurred in 2010, when the bacteria sickened people in at least five states through consumption of contaminated romaine lettuce.