Health officials look for source of E. coliBy NICHOLE GOLDEN
Georgia’s director of the Division of Health Protection, Department of Public Health, held a downtown Atlanta news conference late Thursday afternoon to update the public on the investigation of an E. coli outbreak in Georgia — which includes the case of a Coweta resident.
Although 14 cases of the E. coli 0145 strain have been confirmed in the Southeastern U.S., Dr. J. Patrick O’Neal spoke specifically about the five Georgia cases of the deadly bacteria.
O’Neal said the department is still looking for the exact source, whether it’s food or an environmental exposure.
One of the confirmed Georgia cases was in Coweta County. Others included two in Cobb and one each in Cherokee and Forsyth counties. Four of the five patients in Georgia were women, and all became ill between mid- and late-April.
Three of the 14 people were hospitalized, according to the Associated Press. That included one of the Georgia patients.
A New Orleans, Louisiana, toddler died May 31 from the same E. coli 0145 strain.
The reported illnesses were spread across six states, according to the Associated Press. Federal officials have not identified all six states, but officials in Alabama, Georgia, Florida and Louisiana have confirmed outbreak-associated illnesses.
The publication “Food Safety News” reported that state health departments in Louisiana, Georgia, Alabama, Florida and Tennessee are working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to coordinate an investigation.
According to the CDC, Escherichia coli (abbreviated as E. coli) are a large and diverse group of bacteria. Although most strains of E. coli are harmless, others can make one sick. Some kinds can cause diarrhea, while others cause urinary tract infections, respiratory illness and pneumonia and other illnesses.
The most deadly strain is considered E. coli O157:H7, which became well-known in the early 1990s through a deadly outbreak associated with hamburger meat, according to the Associated Press
Six similar strains are also considered dangerous and one of them is E. coli O145, the strain identified in this new outbreak. Health officials haven’t been tracking O145 intensively for very long; it was only in 2009 that the CDC began recommending labs test for it.
The first U.S. foodborne outbreak linked to O145 occurred in 2010, when more than two dozen people in at least five states were sickened by bacteria transmitted through romaine lettuce.
Until the source of the new outbreak is identified, health officials can offer the public only general advice for avoiding the infection: Cook meat thoroughly. Avoid unpasteurized milk and ciders. And — if you have a diarrhea-like illness — wash your hands thoroughly and do not prepare meals for others.