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CDC Confirms Michigan, Ohio E. Coli Outbreaks Linked, Kroger Ground Beef Likely Suspect

Jun 25, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed that the current Ohio and Michigan E. coli outbreaks are linked; health officials believe ground beef may be the culprit.  The CDC became involved when illness commonalities were suspected between states.  The timing couldn’t be worse for this recent E. coli scare which began in the midst of a Salmonella outbreak that has sickened over 550 and is the largest such tomato contamination in this country.  

On Monday, the CDC confirmed 24 cases of E. coli sharing the same genetic fingerprint and epidemiology:  11 in Michigan and 13 in Ohio with 14 hospitalizations and one patient developing hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a type of kidney failure.  More recently, Kristopher Weiss, an Ohio health department spokesman, said there are now 17 Ohio cases with two additional probables.  Michigan health officials said there are 15 genetically linked confirmed cases with 10 hospitalized there.  A wide variety of counties in both states have been impacted.

The E. coli is linked to ground beef from Kroger Food Stores, the country’s largest grocery chain.  Michigan officials report over half there with confirmed E. coli reported buying ground beef from Kroger.  "We were notified today that E. coli illnesses reported in Michigan and Ohio have been linked to products purchased in some of our stores in those states," said Kroger spokeswoman Meghan Glynn who said the illnesses were reported May 31-June 8.  "Any ground beef sold during that period is no longer available in our stores," Glynn said.  Glynn said Ohio and Michigan health authorities have not identified the supplier or the specific ground beef that caused the illnesses, but added, “We purchase our ground beef from major suppliers in the industry and we are working with federal, state and local agencies to identify the supplier."  Michigan officials say beef products are being traced and other outlets and retailers may be identified.

Escherichia coli is a relatively common bacteria found in the human digestive tract and, while normally harmless, some strains—such as those linked to food poisoning, like the Escherichia coli 0157:H7 in this outbreak—are extremely serious and can cause fatal blood poisoning, cystitis, and deadly septicemia.  Because many infected with the bacteria experience less severe symptoms, many cases are never reported.  In the US, E. coli is the leading cause of food-borne illness and about 73,000 people are infected and 61 people die from E. coli annually; last year, over 22 million pounds of beef and vegetables were recalled due to E. coli outbreaks.  The problem is difficult to police because the food-surveillance system is outdated, under-funded, and overwhelmed by the emergence of mega-farms, -distribution centers, and -transporters.  Scientists have expressed concern that infections from antibiotic resistant E. coli bacteria are now spreading and several countries are reporting cases.  Worse, emerging data confirms the negative health effects of E. coli can remain for months and years; can have long-term, lasting effects; and can appear months or years after the original illness.

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