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Chipotle Closes All Restaurants in Washington and Oregon in E. Coli Outbreak

Nov 3, 2015

Health officials are investigating an E. coli outbreak that has resulted in the closure of all 43 Chipotle restaurants in Washington and Oregon states.

As of last Friday, three people in the Portland, Oregon area and 19 people in western Washington had become sick from E. coli, the Associated Press (AP) reports, and officials say they expect more cases.

Seventeen of the people who became ill report they had eaten at a Chipotle restaurant in recent weeks. Eight people have been hospitalized but, to date, no deaths have been reported.

Marissa D'Angeli, a medical epidemiologist with the Washington State Department of Health, said more cases will probably be confirmed in the next few days as more people with intestinal symptoms learn of the outbreak and see a doctor. Symptoms of infection have been reported in Clackamas and Washington counties in Oregon, and Clark, King, Skagit and Cowlitz counties in Washington, the AP reports.

Escherichia coli (E. coli) bacteria live in the intestines of people and animals. Most E. coli strains are harmless and play an important role in a healthy human intestinal tract, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explains. But some E. coli are pathogenic and can cause illness, either diarrhea or an illness outside of the intestinal tract.

E. coli can be transmitted through contaminated water or food, or through contact with animals or persons. Symptoms usually emerge within three or four days of exposure but can emerge in as little as one day or as long as ten days.

Symptoms include severe stomach cramps, diarrhea (often bloody), and vomiting. Fever, if present, is usually less than 101˚F. Most people recover within 5–7 days, but the infection can be severe or even life-threatening and some people develop kidney and other complications. Young children and older people are more likely to experience serious illness.

D'Angeli said anyone who has had intestinal symptoms and has eaten at Chipotle since mid-October should see a doctor and be tested for E. coli. Anyone who has bloody diarrhea, regardless of whether they have eaten at Chipotle, should see a doctor.

D'Angeli says that the E. coli strain that has caused the recent illnesses may have come from a fresh food item delivered to Chipotle restaurants and other places, according to the AP. Each ill person who comes forward provides clues that may help identify the source of the infection, D'Angeli said. Investigators will interview everyone who has been diagnosed with E. coli and ask about what they ate and where. Washington and Oregon state labs will examine test samples from sick individuals and the FDA will test foods from the Chipotle restaurants to see if the E. coli bacteria match the human cases.

D'Angeli said Chipotle has been cooperating with the investigation and it had voluntarily shut down all its restaurants in the two states. Chipotle spokesman Chris Arnold said the reopening of the 43 closed restaurants will depend on the results of the investigation. The company has no plans to close restaurants in other states because no infections have been linked to other Chipotle locations, the AP reports.

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