Eight sick prisoners in Nome, Alaska, have provided a clue to authorities about the origin of a nationwide outbreak of dangerous E. coli infections from romaine lettuce, but U.S. officials said Monday they still haven't pinpointed the source of the contamination.

Instead, the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are sticking with a broad warning to consumers, telling them to throw away romaine, in any form, that comes from the Yuma, Ariz., growing region, and to avoid eating romaine of unknown origin. Most of the romaine sold in the United States during the winter is grown in the Yuma region.
This is a dangerous strain of E. coli, known as 0157:H7. It produces a Shiga toxin that can enter a person’s bloodstream and wreak havoc on kidney function. Symptoms of infection include vomiting, painful cramps and diarrhea that is often bloody.
Outbreak investigations often take weeks because food in the United States is handled and processed many times as it is distributed nationwide. Typically, the contamination comes from animal feces coming into contact with the produce. Investigators are searching the Yuma area and doing field tests trying to find where the problem originated.
The Yuma region grows most of the romaine sold in the United States winter through March, and production continues into early April, before it becomes too hot in southwest Arizona, and lettuce production shifts to California, particularly the Central Valley and Salinas Valley. The Arizona Department of Agriculture said the last reports of romaine being shipped from the Yuma growing region were on April 15.

The E. coli outbreak, which by last official count had sickened 53 people in 16 states, dates to March 13, with no known fatalities. That count included one of the Alaska prisoners. When all the Alaska inmates are included, the total number of people sickened is at least 60. So far, about two-thirds of the people sickened have been women, officials said, and the age range is 10 to 85.

Post a Comment